by Claire DeMarco, ‘Burgh Vivant
What was it like to be the first super hero – before Superman, Batman or any of the other larger than life legends come along? We find out in a delightful way in the musical comedy premiereproduction of “Up and Away.”
Joe Jessup (Michael Greer) is the world’s first super hero. He is brought up in a small rural community called Farmtown and one day he realizes that he can predict future events seconds before they occur. He’s also learning (albeit tentatively at first) that he can fly. Greer and his brother, Jerry Jessup (John Wascavage), more reticent of the two, live on a farm with their widowed mother (Christine Laitta).
With his new-found powers, Joe heads off to Big City to save the world and occasionally rescue a stranded cat stuck in a tree. He secures a meteorologist job at a radio station based on his prescient knowledge of an upcoming rainstorm. There, he meets Susie Dare (Erika Strasburg), a radio personality, and Ronak Fairchild (Quinn Patrick Shannon), a quirky billionaire.
Joe calls himself Super Saver (he sounds more like a coupon book), and outfits himself in a rudimentary prototype of a super hero in red, baggy long johns and a plaid cape that was – formerly – a table cloth. No skin-tight leggings or silk cape here!
After Joe spends some time in Big City, his mom and brother decide that he needs to come back home to Farmtown. Jerry travels to Big City, encouraging Joe to return to his roots. While Jerry visits, he falls in love with Susie Dare, unaware his brother, Joe, is a rival for her affections.
Susie rejects Joe and from this point on the plot evolves into a physical and verbal conflict between the brothers. Will Joe and Jerry solve their differences? Does either brother get the girl? Will we ever know the origin of Joe’s super powers?
The musical takes place in Farmtown and Big City. If there’s a burlap background curtain, we’re in Farmtown, if a brick wall with a large faux window, we’re in Big City. Simplistic but clever props add to the story. A large cloud-patterned sheet manually waved by unseen hands in the background suggests that Greer is flying. We see a silhouette of Super Saver moving behind the faux window as he’s off on another rescue.
5 actors (Greer, Wascavage, Laitta, Strasburg and Shannon) portray 50 characters in “Up and Away.” Transitions between characters seamless and smooth. No need for a dramatic costume change to differentiate the various characters. A yellow hat, a fake mustache or a glittery jacket is enough to suggest character changes.
This musical comedy requires a unity among all the actors since it is a physical show with precise timing. Greer, Wascavage, Laitta, Strasburg and Shannon all succeed in their interactions with one another.
Greer and Shannon’s facial expressions, double takes and comedic timing were outstanding.
Book and lyrics were written by Kevin Hammonds with music by Kristin Bair. Hammonds and Bair have collaborated on previous productions in musical comedy. This production solidifies their talents.
Director/Choreographer Marlo Hunter made the constant activity and turmoil on stage look easy and uncomplicated.
“Up and Away” is the feature presentation for SPARK, an inaugural festival of new small-cast musicals. It is a funny, fast-paced, family friendly musical.
“Up and Away” runs until April 15 at Cabaret at Theater Square, 655 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, go here.