Variations and Fugue – a review of “Coram Boy”

Mike Buzzelli

By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant

After a dispute with his father, a talented young composer and singer, Alexander Ashbrook (Sophie Aknin), runs away to pursue a musical career in Helen Edmundson’s adaptation of Jamila Gavin’s “Coram Boy.”

Alexander is a happy child. He spends his days and nights in the choir at the Gloucester Cathedral, composing music in his off hours and hanging with his bestie, Thomas Ledbury (Mei Lu Barnum). His father, Sir William Ashbrook (Chris Knudsen), however, thinks it’s time to put away such childish things and become a man.

During a performance in front of his family and friends, his voice cracks and young Alexander becomes a man (Kyle Irish-Gorvin). He falls for the governess’s daughter, Melissa (Alysia Vastardis) and they do what young people in fresh out of puberty often do. Boom Chicka Wow Wow.

Unable to comply with his father’s wishes, Alex flees the family estate and runs away. His father scratches his name out of the family bible. Gasp!

However, he left Melissa with an unexpected consequence of their brief encounter (the unitended result of said puberty).

Meanwhile, the devious Coram Man, Otis Gardiner (Mike Mekus), takes unwanted children from hapless mothers and buries them (dead or alive) for a price. He tells them that the children will be cared for at the well-known Coram Hospital (for wayward children). Otis accomplishes his wicked deeds with the aid of his own indentured servant and son, Meshak (Daniel Murphy).

Melissa gives up her newborn to the housekeeper, Mrs. Lynch (Blake Doyle), who is in cahoots with the Coram Man. Otis commands Meshak to dispose of the baby. Meshak runs away with the child.

Several years later, an orphan, Aaron Dangerfield (Sophie Aknin in a dual role), ends up in a choir with the same desire to pursue a musical career.

A famous composer, George Frideric Handel (Michah Stanek) discovers the child’s talent and brings him to be tutored by Thomas Ledbury (now played by Tommy Bo).

Alexander Ashbrook, now living under a nom de guerre, reunites with Thomas and meets Aaron, unaware that the boy is his son. Dunt dunt da!

But wait! There’s more! Aaron’s best friend, Toby Gaddarn (Zetra Goodlow) is taken in by a dastardly slave trader (who may or may not be someone from Alex and Melissa’s past). And, for some reason, there are angels (Augustine Ubannwa and Tyquan White) flying about.

It’s difficult to pick a central character or theme to the show, because there isn’t one. There is no central POV (Point of View) and myriad plotlines go off of their own accord much like the aforementioned angels.

The play is very long. Toby’s storyline started midway through the second act. It was the “Look down at the watch moment.” There was, however, no kitchen sink in the play, but it felt like the only thing missing.

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine why Edmundson gathered numerous Tony nominations for this adaptation.

Director Tome Cousin does garner some fantastic performances out of his actors.

Murphy does a stellar job writhing around as the tortured Meshak. Think of him as a quasi-Quasimodo – – without the spinal malformation.

Aknin does a spectacular job as both young Alex and Aaron.

Mekus is reprehensible villain. He pulls it off, despite his boyish good looks. Doyle’s Mrs. Lynch is delightful as the unscrupulous maid.

There are some great but tiny performances from Blumethal, Barnum and Goodlow, and Stanek’s Handel is a hoot.

“Coram Boy” is not a musical but a play with music. It’s a fine distinction. No one bursts into song unexpectedly, but the number one reason to see the play would be for the choir. They are heavenly.


“Coram Boy” runs until December 2 at the new Pittsburgh Playhouse, 350 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.


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