According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Monday, September 25, 2006

FRINGE 2006 (Encore): Perfect Harmony

Here's a case for all things cute, cheesy, and cheery. Perfect Harmony is a show of eccentric characters with more eccentric problems, united in the quest for one shining moment of perfection (the a capella high-school National title). Ridiculous as that sounds, it's more ridiculous in performance, which makes this the most delightfully low-budget (semi-)musical since 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

At last, a show that recognizes a capella for what it is: "a cult of pressure and perfection." Just as The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee took a cute, musical approach to a somewhat geeky field, Perfect Harmony has arrived to make high school a capella cool again. Or at least something that you can laugh with, not at. (Full disclosure: I was a high school a capella-ist.) The fact that this was a workshopped play means that it plays for the laughs, and riddles the characters with superficial problems that make them both easy to identify and full of easy humor. What's surprising are how good so many of those jokes are, and how the confessional monologues actually work their way into the show. What's more, beneath the cheesy songs (actually the weakest part of the show) and riotous humor, there's an actual plot that explores friendship, competition, and whether or not art has any place in music anymore. This is not a perfect play (much as that'd help my tagline) but it's close: a PG-rated, feel-good, semi-musical blast.

The story follows the misadventures of two rival groups as they approach the Nationals: the unbeaten men, The Acafellas, and the ditzy yet talented women, The Ladies in Red. Scenes cross back and forth from each group's side of the stage, and toward the end of the play, the groups begin to collide. Half of the ten-person cast also double as "members of the greater community" who advance the plot while providing even more comic relief. This not only keeps the audience on its toes but also displays the range of actors like David Barlow and Marina Squerciati, and keeps the show moving at a lively pace.

A rundown of all the terrific jokes (there's one about genealogy that involves a certain Phillip Fellowes the Fourth the First) or all the brilliant characters (like J.B., a quarterback turned a capellageek and his sister, Valerie, who can't stand being looked at) would take far too long. That would be an injustice to the show, a zippy in-and-out affair that doesn't squander a second. Director Andrew Grosso (who created the show with The Essentials) knows enough about a capella to keep it moving and though the stagecraft is still a bit bare bones, there are enough tricks (like Simon Depardieu's appearance from the audience) to remind us that he's trying.

During the show, Lassiter A. Jayson III, the polo-wearing, pitchpipe-playing perfectionist of the group makes the argument that "good art makes people uncomfortable." I agree, but after seeing Perfect Harmony, I'd add that the best art is that which makes uncomfortable people smile.

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