Thursday, May 24, 2012

Unicorn "Everyday Rapture" review by Kelly Luck

Rapturous, but Far from Everyday
Rating: 4

Everyday Rapture
Unicorn Theatre

"Everyday Rapture" is the story of one woman's journey from humble origins and her struggle to achieve her dreams. Along the way, she has a series of eye-opening experiences with a number of quirky strangers, and emerges a fully realized woman. She experiences heartbreak and rapture, success and failure, and re-enacts it all for us in just under two hours.

No, no - come back here. Sit down, sit down. It's not what you think. I swear.

Actually, Topeka native Sherie Rene Scott's story is told with wit and charm, taking the tropes of the "one-woman show" and musical revues both, and gleefully subverting them in a most entertaining way. We go from her half-Mennonite roots in Kansas to the bright lights of New York, singing all the way and always with a saving dose of self-depreciating wit. Accompanied by her backup-singers-cum-Greek-chorus the "Mennonettes" (Christina Burton and Chioma Anyanwu), Sherie (represented here by Katie Gilchrist) starts off with her earliest memories, singing Judy Garland songs with her favorite cousin, and discovering the joy of music. She takes us around town, discusses some of the area's more famous and infamous inhabitants (most particularly the Westboro Baptist crowd, which were just beginning to get their coveted notoriety). She eventually escapes for a month to New York, her "runaround" month before settling in and being a good Mennonite, but the showbiz bug has bit, and it's only a matter of time before she finds her way back.

Along the way, she discovers love, hate, magic, and Mister Rogers. Incidents from her life as she works her way to Broadway stardom are replayed, though reports of some incidents are, shall we say, greatly exaggerated. Throughout it all, she keeps singing. Pop tunes, TV themes, and showbiz standards are picked up and gleefully folded into the narrative. This is a deeply personal work, but it is also a deeply personable one. Scott takes us into her confidence, lets us in on the backstage of her life. Sometimes it's a bit hard to look, but it's all done with gusto and showmanship, and in the end one cannot help but applaud.

Audience goers at the Unicorn will be experiencing a unique production, in that it is not only the first time this play has been performed outside of New York, but it is also the first time that Ms Scott is not playing herself. It is perhaps somewhat disconcerting to see such a highly personal memoir being played out by a third party, but Ms Gilchrist does a superlative job, and we suspend our disbelief. This is not hurt by the fact that her voice is more than up to the task at hand. Her performance was all the more remarkable because, as we learned after the show, she was a last-minute substitute when the previous star got pneumonia. With between 9 and 12 days to learn the role, she has done a spectacular job, and one can only stop to admire her ability. The "Mennonettes" are both excellent singers as well, and bring quite a lot of the humor in the show.

The set is simply dressed: a video screen on one wall, cityscapes sliding in from the sides when needed, all other props deliberately minimal, wheeled out as needed. Due to the musical nature of the production, the band (led capably by Jeremy Watson) is placed in the rear of the stage, visible to the audience. This is not something we see in the average musical production, but here it works very well, not least because they do an excellent job rendering the music. We understand the Unicorn is planning on having a visible band again during the upcoming season, something to look forward to.

There were very few weaknesses to speak of in the production. A couple of minor opening-night stumbles, such as are to be expected, but nothing major. In terms of the story itself, we found it generally well-paced, with some gaps here and there. A particular sequence, detailing her interaction with a YouTube user lip-synching her songs, seemed to go on a bit long to this reviewer, though this is of course entirely subjective. In general, the production was a satisfying and entertaining one all around.

"Everyday Rapture" is a story about finding the magic in every day, about seizing opportunities, and finding one's place in the world. Broadway fans will no doubt enjoy it, but it will resonate equally well with anyone who ever dreamed of escaping their old hometown, or has ever lived inside a song.

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