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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Review- Seeing Stars (NYMF)

The Fab Marquee review by Karen Tortora-Lee.

It's been a while since I've seen a musical that starts with an overture; they always remind me of My Fair Lady or Oklahoma... the way one song melds into another and gives you a preview of what you're about to hear.  It's a little like starting a speech off with a joke: you get the audience in a good mood and pull them into your world slowly. 

Seeing Stars (Book by Shelly McPherson, Music by Don Breithaupt and Lyrics by Jeff Breithaupt) stars off just this way, with a lilting, rousing, fluttering overture that gets the audience's toes tapping and heads bobbing.  While the tactic may be a bit old hat, this is an old fashioned musical, so it fits.

Seeing Stars is about dames and palookas, about gin joints and hot jazz, about giving the kid a break and winning one for the ole gang.  It's a little bit of any Rocky movie dipped in an East Side Kids caper and set to a Guys and Dolls beat.  In essence - Seeing Stars is a brand new musical that plays like a revival.

Just like any of the old Rogers & Hammerstein gems that followed the same formula, Seeing Stars does a great job at using musical numbers to quickly catch the audience up on each character's back story while moving along the storyline.  The songs also tend to make quick work of exposition, with the requisite internal monologue thrown in for good measure.  Basically, this is the story of an amateur fighter, "Gentleman" Joe Sullivan (Michael Halling) who (the song tells us) had one bad fight and quit before he was really ever able to make it as a pro boxer.  Now he can be found at his old gym, working out and keeping in shape but swearing to never go back in the ring.  Meanwhile, a snappy dame reporter (think Jennifer Jason Leigh in Hudsucker Proxy) named Jean Barker (Margaret Nichols) is trying to move off the women's page of the paper and cover Sports. She works her way into the gym press conference when Eddie McSorely (Kevin Earley) says he'll give her an interview if she'll go one round in the ring with him.  And so, obviously, a love story begins.

Seeing Stars succeeds in terms of presenting a satisfying musical, filled with great songs, rousing musical numbers, three great leads, and a decent love triangle in which you spend a lot of time rooting for the gal to pick the "right" guy... with the "right" guy being which every guy she's with at the moment.

Both Halling and Earley are amazing performers with great voices who really know how to bring home a love song.  Jean Barker, however, as a character, is just a bit too flat to be believable as someone two men would be desperately in love with, let alone fight over... in the ring, no less. Ms. Nichols puts in a decent performance, but I just didn't buy her as a man-killer... nor did I care too much in the end who she chose.  

However, the fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed by Liza Gennaro and the final scene which is played in slow motion over complete silence, save for the sound of breathing, is possibly the best live-action scene I've watched play out in a theatre. It has the audience holding its breath.

Overall, Seeing Stars is terrific, and shouldn't be missed if you're hankering for a good old fashioned musical that you've never seen before.

New York Musical Theatre Festival presents
Seeing Stars
October 7th-17th, 2009
The Theater at St. Clement's

Final Performance Saturday, October 17th at 1pm. For tickets and more information visit

The Theater at St. Clement's | 423 West 46th St | Manhattan.

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