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Theatre Review: Many Will See a Version of Themselves in Fugitive Songs

Anne Evans Anne Evans Theatre Review: Many Will See a Version of Themselves in Fugitive SongsEzekiel Andrew (center) takes an optimistic view of the future in the song “Shine” with (left to right) JJ Parkey, Angela Miller, Dionysia Williams, Viktor Nilsson and Melissa Hall Short North Stage’s production of Fugitive Songs. Photos by Jerri Shafer.
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Tonight, the Short North Stage opened a concert of short stories, Fugitive Songs. Fugitive Songs had a brief run off-Broadway in 2008 as a theatrical revue, but this production will be the first performance of the final version of the show into a theatrical piece. It is a collection that with more exposure, has the potential to be skyrocketed to stardom. It’s also another great fit for the beautifully run-down Garden Theater that easily lends itself as the seventh cast member. (I never want to see this theater renovated!).

This play was originally set to stage in the Green Room, but the decision was made to house it in the Garden Theater and  add the entire audience to the stage. The effect is what I think is a profoundly different play. With the raw beauty the Garden Theater provides, you feel as if you were casually walking along a street when out of the corner of your eye, you catch a glimpse of light shining through a slightly open door, a bit further down a quiet side street. Upon further investigation, you begin to hear the sounds of a perfectly harmonized group and upon entering you find you have stumbled upon something amazing – a special performance happening just for you. This is what it feels like to experience Fugitive Songs.

Woven together from a collection of unused songs from other projects, Fugitive Songs brings to light situations where people have found themselves needing to flee; needing to get away from a situation and start anew.

“A majority of the songs [in Fugitive Songs] were initially written for other projects,” says co-director Nathan Tysen in a program note. “For one reason or another, said projects fell through and my collaborator Chris Miller and I were left with a collection of songs that we loved, but that had no theatrical home.”

Tysen and his co-director Carrie Gilchrist have created a very special show. The casting could not have been better. All six actors are so in tune with one another and with the band, that any time the entire company is on stage, you experience musical perfection. During several of the songs I found myself thinking, wow I could listen to this for days. DAYS!

Angela Miller (center) sings “Annie’s Party” with (left to right) with Dionysia Williams, Melissa Hall, JJ Parkey and Viktor Nilsson in Short North Stage’s production of Fugitive Songs. Photos by Jerri Shafer.

Angela Miller (center) sings “Annie’s Party” with (left to right) with Dionysia Williams, Melissa Hall, JJ Parkey and Viktor Nilsson in Short North Stage’s production of Fugitive Songs. Photos by Jerri Shafer.

Frequent SNS patrons will recognize JJ Parkey and Dionysia Williams from other productions where they have always wowed. Seeing Parkey perform Growing Up as a duet with the piano with emotions pouring out of him and spilling onto the stage will assuredly have you thinking about your childhood.

Viktor Nilsson is a newcomer to the Short North Stage, and to Columbus. (He is part of the Lovewell Institute for the Creative Arts that has classes throughout the United States and Sweden. Nilsson is from Sweden and works as an assistant music director and vocal coach. Short North Stage is involved with the Lovewell Institute and the connection was made, bringing Nilsson to this performance). As he sings the lyrics in Lullaby, a tale about a women running from place to place aboard a Greyhound bus, his voice embodies the sadness of her story, like a cold rain hitting the bus as it drives on through the dark. The entire cast is on seated on stools on stage, slightly wavering on their seats in the way a bus would lull you as it drove down the open road. With the lighting slightly dimmed to a cool blue… it is an emotional experience.

With Kansas Highway Sky, the group of men are riding bicycles (actually sitting on stools and acting it out) and their rhythmic movements with the big sound of the band and the video elements put you right under that big open sky.

Ezekiel Andrew also has emotional journeys to take you on and his rich baritone voice makes it an easy listen. All of his stories were wonderful, but Passing Tracy, a tale where he sees his ex-girlfriend Tracy in every passing car, was a highlight. Angela Miller’s stories are lighter-hearted ones where she looks at frustrating situations with a refreshing laugh. There is a good mix of comedic elements to the show that balance the heavier segments.

Melissa Hall is another newcomer to Short North Stage and she is quite a standout. When the three women are together on stage, their voices come together so well. Don’t Say Me leads with Hall as a cheerleader on a path to find herself after leaving her high school boyfriend. It’s a funny but also relatable situation with a person feeling the need to move on after feeling invisible in a relationship for quite some time.

Wildflowers shows another side of love, beginning with an awkward kiss goodnight (which Williams and Nilsson portray just right) and their voices carry the lyrics of this sweet song just above the piano and cello, giving you a taste of how a real love story unfolds, where each person is surprised “like wild wildflowers on the side of the road.” It’s finding love when you least and where you least expect it.

I’ve been seeing this play billed as rogues and miscreants running from something in their life, but I think it’s more about what each of us goes through as we navigate through life – finding your true self in a sea of others’ expectations. Once you find yourself and truly love yourself, your life can blossom into something amazing. Everyone goes through a personal journey and you leave some things behind while others cause you to grow into a better person.

Fugitive Songs is a special kind of play that will speak to everyone, and you get it in an intimate environment that puts you right in front as it happens. It deserves a sell-out run with encore after encore. Licensing house Samuel French has just picked up this piece, so perhaps it’s potential as a national tour will be realized. The 80 minutes of this play blow past. It’s paced well. It is real. It is raw. It is highly emotional while funny at the same time. It is exciting that this is the kind of theater happening in our city. It’s wonderful!

Fugitive Songs plays at the Short North Stage’s Garden Theater, Thursday through Sunday through November 30th (except Thanksgiving Day). Showtimes are at 8pm, and 3pm Sundays. Tickets are $25-$30. Visit ShortNorthStage.org for more information.

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