Photo courtesy of Ronnie Larsen Presents
Daniel #1 (Cody Jenkins) snuggles up with Greg #1 (Conor Walton) in the world premiere production of Now & Then.
By AARON KRAUSE
WILTON MANORS, Fla. — Time flashes years forward and backward in sometimes sunny beams of hope and love, but also darker hues of disappointment and despair, in the world premiere of Ronnie Larsen and Dennis Manning’s often-cliched, sometimes preachy and sentimental musical, Now & Then.
Certainly, this weepy, yet at times charming, touching and upbeat show has something to say. Furthermore, few of us can admit without lying that we always take the musical’s message to heart. But, there’s nothing revelatory or groundbreaking in book writer Larsen as well as composer and lyricist Manning’s musical.
Even so, now and then, there’s charm and pathos in this show, which runs through Sept. 30, a Ronnie Larsen Presents production.Denn
This first-ever mounting is playing on the newly-named Wilton Theater Factory’s mainstage in Wilton Manors, near Ft. Lauderdale.
Now & Then’s message seems to be that love and life can be fickle and fleeting. Therefore, make the most of your time on earth with those whom you cherish. In addition, if difficult times arise, listening to a still, small voice might help.
In the show, those voices come in the form of two characters’ past and future selves.
The six-person cast largely excels. The show requires quadruple threats – performers adept at acting, singing, dancing and playing the guitar.
In this debut production, the actors demonstrate clear, strong and expressive singing voices. They also disappear into their characters and their guitar playing is diverse without missing a beat. However, their dancing and the choreography could use work. It’s tentative and awkward.
This musical, while it has promise, must improve if it’s to experience longevity.
The tale centers on two gay men — aspiring musician Daniel and hopeful funnyman Greg. They meet during an open mic night in college.
Soon, we learn that both men are “solitary” individuals. Therefore, it’s no surprise that they would decide to become friends. But when one proposes to the other, it’s not hard to envision that this marriage will be rough. After all, marriage is a life-long commitment. So, are “solitary men” ready for such a responsibility?
On the other hand, it’s a pleasant surprise to learn that, through good times and bad, arguments and tenderness, this couple has remained together for 43 years.
Certainly, circumstances and time have changed them. For instance, we first encounter an aw-shucks, modest, charming, soulful-singing Daniel in his 20s (a likeable, cowboy hat-clad Cody Jenkins, who nails these characteristics with good ol’ country boy charm).
With that in mind, it’s hard to believe Daniel has changed so much about a decade later. But it’s one thing to live alone and quite another to share your life with someone whose lifestyle requires adapting.
Soon, we get to know Daniel in his mid-30s (Daniel #2). Matt McClure convincingly plays him as a stone-faced man with a bottle. Indeed, he looks and sounds nothing like Daniel #1, that charming young man we met at the play’s beginning. Everything about Daniel #2 suggests apathy and an unhappy, perhaps even stoned individual in his own world. If he’s written and portrayed one-dimensionally, it can be easy for audiences to dismiss him. Fortunately, McClure finds the vulnerability and emotion in the role, so we care about him.
While the entire cast largely succeeds, Tim Evanicki shines as Greg #2. The actor disappears into the role. Specifically, he lends him an uptight, hurried aura that suggests this man needs a massage. Also, when the character becomes emotional, the tears and pain in his expressive, choked-up voice sound and look impressively real. Undoubtedly, Evanicki has carefully internalized this part.
Sometimes, a character at a younger age speaks to himself at an older age. Scenes involving all three Daniels and Gregs occur in rapid succession, perhaps reinforcing life’s fleetingness.
Some of the show’s quieter, reflective songs also reflect this. While it’s doubtful you’ll remember any of these folk- and country-style tunes, they’re mostly effective at reflecting a scene’s mood.
Certainly, at first, love, dreaminess and sex are in the air. Conor Walton could vary his facial expressions and inject more nuance into Greg #1. Still, he beautifully captures the aforementioned mood, with intensity in his smile, a playful, teasing demeanor and a seemingly unrestrained zest for life.
There’s an intensity about him suggesting a contentment that disappears with Greg #2.
Unfortunately,this character experiences a downward spiral from his younger days. Nerves and a short temper replace that easygoing dreaminess and sexiness. Then, those knots of tension give way to vulnerability and helplessness as Greg #3 (a fine Manning, the composer and lyricist of Now & Then) learns devastating news. The humor that follows is clearly meant to keep the musical from becoming depressing, even if the jokes are lame. Also, at this point, clichés start to kick in.
“It goes by really fast, man,” Daniel 3 tells one of his younger selves, referring to life. “Way too fast. You meet at open mic, then you buy your first home, then you retire and next thing you know you’re playing “Solitary Man” at your husband’s funeral. You’re wasting time, Daniel.
“I’m just saying, time goes by crazy quick. Don’t waste it. You only get so many Christmases.”
Speaking of pace, the production drags at the end under Larsen’s direction. But his staging and placement of actors make it clear how they feel about each other during given moments.
The multi-level set by Melquisedel Dominguez might suggest the journey through life. An eye-catching part of the set resembles stars, reinforcing the musical’s non-realism.
After all, how often do you get to talk to your older self to learn about your future?
Would you inquire, if that were possible? It’s something to think about.
This musical has its positives and promise. But as it stands now, clichés, sentimentalism and preachiness get in the way of this musical imparting to us in a truly unique manner themes and messages we’ve heard multiple times on stages.
Now & Then continues its run through Sept. 30 on the mainstage of the Wilton Theater Factory, 2304 N. Dixie Highway. Performance times are 8 p.m. Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets range from $35-$50. For more information, visit www.nowandthenmusical.com or ronnielarsen.com.
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