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This article by Joan Crespi was prepared for the December 18, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Lies and Legends’
Are you "Christmas Carol"-ed and "Nutcracker"-ed
out? Try Hopewell’s Off-Broadstreet Dessert Theater for something
different this holiday season. "Lies and Legends, the musical
stories of Harry Chapin," is a show for all seasons, perfectly
suited to this theater’s intimate, cabaret-like setting.
Lies or Legends? Theater-goers needn’t bother trying to decipher which
is which: the title is all-encompassing, to cover the many and varied
subjects, fact or fiction, of Chapin’s popular songs. Most are in
the folk tradition with guitar accompaniment. Subjects range, geographically,
from the East Coast to San Francisco and the area in between, but
could be anyplace in America. Often full of anguish, regret, and loneliness,
but not always, they present a kaleidoscope of American lives.
"Lies and Legends" was first produced by Off-Broadstreet in
1988. After frequent requests, says OBT co-producer Julia Thick, the
theater decided to mount a new production of this story-telling musical.
Then as now Harris Goodman appears in the production. Now he is joined
by three other talented OBT veterans, Jennifer East, Tom Orr, and
Pam Linkin. The four play, sing, and dance all the parts in this stellar
Don’t expect a drama. Instruments of the five-piece band are not sunk
in an orchestra pit or set off to the side, but are spread across
center stage. The musicians, all in country casual — blue shirts
and denim pants — with four of the five sporting red suspenders,
are Stephen C. Bearse (keyboard and musical director), Robert Gargiullo
(bass guitar), John Kemp (cello), Jim Gleseke (guitar) and Jonathan
Cooper (percussion). (Harry Chapin’s father drummed for the big swing
bands.) One of the performers, Tom Orr, even picks up a guitar to
Around and above the band is a walkway; at the sides it becomes descending
platforms where the four performers appear, singing the lyrics with
clear, strong voices, acting as the lyrics prompt, and often dancing
with verve and energy across downstage, in front of the band. Robert
Thick, co-producer and director, designed the production so that the
band music and singing, dancing, and acting interweave.
OBT has put together a group of engaging performers who can sing strongly
and purely, dance, and act the small roles the musical stories give
them. There’s no plot. The characters are interchangeable, and there’s
no carry-over from song to song. Yet some of the songs, nostalgic
or regretful, can touch and leave you, as they did this reviewer,
smiling or quietly weeping.
For humor topped with catastrophe there’s "Bananas," a song
about 30,000 bananas heading to Scranton, Pennsylvania, when the truck
rounds a curve, crashes, and the result? Mashed bananas. For gallows
humor there’s a snappy number danced to and sung by the entire company
of four, "The Dance Band on the Titanic."
Some songs carry heartbreak. The D.J at radio station W.O.L.D. laments
that he has a voice that’s heard but never seen. Another song speaks
of failed dreams. "She was gonna be an actress; I was gonna learn
to fly." "Get On With it" tells you "time goes too
fast." In a nod to the 1960s, one song ends with its narrator
being coked out.
"Mail Order Annie, " sung and acted by Harris and Jen, carries
its message of desperation, loneliness, and longing. "Tangled
Up Puppet," about raising children, has lyrics every parent will
respond to. His famous "Cat’s in the Cradle" is also about
raising a child and the too-quick passage of life where father and
son never have time for each other. This, like some other Harry Chapin
songs, has its undertow of sadness and open loneliness. Chapin’s philosophy
is summed up in his line "sing from the inside, you hope that
At the show’s conclusion the performers have the audience
singing and clapping rhythmically to "Our love is like a circle.
Let’s go around one more time." The audience applauded long and
loudly, even cheered. (Eating sinfully rich desserts and fresh fruit,
sipping coffee and tea, the audience looked to be made up of aging
Baby Boomers, including many self-declared Harry Chapin fans.)
"Lies and Legends," this series of separate musical vignettes,
opened in Chicago under the musical direction and orchestrations of
Stephen and Tom Chapin, Harry’s younger brothers. In 1995 it moved
on to New York’s Village Gate. But Harry Chapin, music and lyrics
writer, never saw the show. It was put together by Tom and Steve after
Harry’s death in a car accident in 1981. He was in his late 30s.
Harry Chapin who had, and obviously still has, a following, was no
ordinary songwriter. He wanted to make a difference. He did concerts
for world hunger. It was a tradition to bring cans to donate at his
concerts. He raised over $3 million dollars for food and hunger issues,
cancer research, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and cystic
fibrosis. Shocked by the mass starvation caused by drought in sub-Saraha
Africa, he founded World Hunger Year and supported it by his concert
earnings. He even roamed the halls of Congress with his guitar, got
his project signed into law by President Carter in 1978, and was appointed
a member of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger.
What does Harry Chapin have in common with George Washington, Thomas
Edison, Jonas Salk, Robert Kennedy, and Marian Anderson.? He was awarded
the Congressional Gold Medal.
— Joan Crespi
Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. $24. Runs to January 18.
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