(l to r): Colin Hanlon, Michael Arden, Steven Pasquale, Kerry Butler
Photo courtesy: BroadwayWorld.com
“Easter Rising” (music by Michael Arden & book by Isaac Oliver), a concert reading at Joe’s Pub on Dec 21st , focuses on the last few weeks of the life of Caleb (Steven Pasquale). As his battle with terminal cancer draws toward a close, Caleb confronts buried relationships with his estranged childhood friend Andrew (Colin Hanlon) and his teenage son John (Michael Arden) vis a vis his a love for his fiance April (Kerry Butler). Set in Plano, Texas this four person song cycle questions the limits of love, definition of family and the morals we pass on to our children when our own are in debate.
The intermissionless musical, opens as Caleb, composing a letter to Andrew, beautifully sings its content. It is one of some 67 other letters to Andrew over the past twenty years that Caleb has written since Andrew has left Plano to move to Ohio, father a son, and then leave his wife and live as an openly gay man. Andrew has never responded to any of these letters, including this one. Nevertheless, upon receiving this letter, Andrew decides to drive to Plano from Ohio, forcing his son John to spend his senior Spring Break driving unannounced to the home that Caleb shares with his fiancé April. “The Driving Lesson” introduces us to the smart and witty John and the non-traditional father/son relationship of John and Andrew.
We are next introduced to April, poignantly considering her life as she fills out an patient history form in her doctor’s office. The composer's insight into his characters is apparent with the sensitive lyrics from the song “Filling out A Form”, as April considers her biological clock and her desire for a baby from Caleb. Soon, Andrew and John arrive at Caleb and April’s house at 3am, who notice the pickup truck with Ohio plates sitting in their driveway but don’t approach it until the morning, because this is the scheduled time for April to try to become pregnant. Meanwhile John is trying to convince his dad to muster the courage to go up to the door, while drawing references to David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. The following morning, they are invited in the house and Caleb introduces the pair to April and the very funny and innuendo-laden song “Breakfast” comes next, where April offers to make eggs for breakfast and then openly bemoans what else she could have done with those eggs, like make a soufflé or a casserole. Not lost on this reviewer is that the eggs are a euphemism for what else will be lost as her idyllic life soon will change.
As the show progresses, April discovers that the reason Andrew has come to see Caleb is not that he is there to steal her man, as Caleb informs her that he has terminal cancer and that he only has weeks to live. Despite the gravity of the situation she remains fixated on trying to conceive and deliver a baby, which seems a bit cold.
Faced with a few weeks to live, Caleb decides that he wants to see the ocean again, so the foursome drive to the Gulf of Mexico. A flat tire strands them in the desert and two sets of characters emerge to deal with the situation in their own best way. The melodic score is infectiously sung by the four actors, supported by the four piece band: Matt Richardson, piano; Victoria Paterson, violin; Matt Hinkley, guitar; and Clara Kennedy, cello.
Despite the pallid themes of the musical, it is at times hilarious and witty. Michael Arden’s John is smart and endearing. Colin Hanlon’s Andrew was approachable and likeable while his voice expertly captured the changes in his character from the apprehension to fully embracing the love for his long-lost friend. Kerry Butler was perfectly cast as April who was endearingly moved by the emotions displayed by her castmates. Steven Pasquale, as Caleb, has a smooth and powerful voice with excellent stage presence.
Without a doubt, Michael Arden’s score is a winner. But, one must remember, Michael Arden has been riding a wave the past two years, receiving excellent training at Interlochen and is a Presidential Scholar in the Arts at The Julliard School. The book by Fordham College senior Isaac Oliver, was suspenseful and fulfilling and the overall effect was a level of complexity and maturity rarely seen from a 22-year-old.
The two performance concert was produced by Kevin Abbott and directed by Kristin Hanggi and Musical Direction by Paul Masse with Orchestrations by Matt Richardson. The eager standing room only crowd obviously brimmed with excitement to see what will come of this work.
“Easter Rising” refers to a famous bloody uprising of the Irish against their English oppressors in April 1916, which gave birth to the movement known as Sinn Féin, the best-known, openly anti-English, nationalist propaganda body in Dublin. Apparently, this has nothing to do with the show, one wonders how the title was decided upon.
Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater
Dec 21 only