Review: 'Crashlight' at Cherry Lane Theatre

Spencer Lau

  • OnStage New Jersey Critic

I had the pleasure of attending a new Off Broadway musical, “Crashlight” in their premiere weekend at the historic Cherry Lane Theatre’s Studio Theater in New York City’s Greenwich Village. For those of you who are not familiar with the Cherry Lane Theatre, the building dates back to 1836, its theatrical roots began in 1924, when it was converted from a box factory to theater. Within the walls of this historic building, some of Broadway’s greatest playwrights and legendary actors have begun their careers here. Why did I tell you about the theatre’s rich history? It is because I believe that Celeste Makoff has the potential to be recognized as part of that history in the near future and “Crashlight” has a lot of potential to be a recognized piece that was born in the Cherry Lane Theatre.

“Crashlight” tells the story of an Orwellian world where sunlight is controlled by its narassitic dictator, Marcus Pressi, through propaganda, censorship and violence. The musical’s heroine is Rian, a woman struggling to protect her family, while trying to find the author of the music that inspires her to believe that a better life is possible. Along this journey she is challenged to make personal sacrifices but will she sacrifice her beliefs to help her family and change the world?  The show is written and directed by Celeste Makoff, musical arrangements/orchestration by Trevor Bumgarner, choreography by Kaitlyn Moise and costume design by Shirlee Idzakovich. The show is produced by PeachPie Productions, whose mission “is to give new artists a professional framework to exercise their talents in order to gain the experience they need to take on a career in the arts.” This production certainly has young upcoming talent within its cast led by Lindsay Danielle Gitter (Rian), Andy Dispensa (Marcus), Caleb Schaaf (Anthony), and Rylee Doiron (Jade). 

Lindsay Gitter as "Rian" and Caleb Schaaf as "Anthony"  - Photo by Taylor Wobbler

Lindsay Gitter as "Rian" and Caleb Schaaf as "Anthony"  - Photo by Taylor Wobbler

There are many highlights about “Crashlight” that I really enjoyed. There is a lot of potential in the quality story written by Celeste Makoff. It provides a lot of conflict and character development along with layers to each character and subplot points that make it a compelling story to watch. The story also takes chances and separates itself from productions that deal with an Orwellian world that has been recently popularized by “The Hunger Games” Trilogy. There is budding genius in the music written by Makoff and arranged by Bumgarner. His songs had variety and different genres that showed the range of abilities Trevor wrote for the characters. I particularly enjoyed hearing vocal strengths of the two female leads Lindsay Gitter and Rylee Diorion. Their work individually and in mixed ensemble pieces with Caleb Schaaf and Andy Dispensa compliment each other quite well.

The music has beautiful harmonies but don’t give off the jukebox music sound that modern shows have. Kaitlyn Moise also has moments of fine choreography woven into the story. The ensemble demonstrated that they are talented. Each one of them gave quality performances with tremendous heart that affirmed their commitment and love of production and each other. It appears that there is a wonderful aura of family in this production and there is joy amongst this cast, when they perform with each other. The minimalist set, lighting and sound effects provide a great amount of support for the show. There is a brilliant use of technology as well to modernize the show so that it can be related to as one of the handful of communist dictatorships that still exist. Costume designer Shirlee Idzakovich helps bring Celeste Makoff’s vision of two separate classes of people together with her conceptualization of a nobility style (black and white uniformity) vs. the peasantry (earth tones) that also enhance the world that the characters are living in. The costuming choices again help provide a realistic and modern feel to the show.

Cherry Lane Theatre has provided many artists an opportunity for writers and directors to develop their show. Their founders understood that theatre is a living and breathing organism that is constantly evolving and maturing. I believe that “Crashlight” is a perfect example of that. It will grow and mature as Celeste Makoff makes adjustments in the story, staging and choreography. The show has many highlights that the entire cast and crew should be very proud of but I would like to see them explore more of the pivotal moments in the story. There were times I felt those moments were rushed, where silence and having the eye contact would have given the dialogue and actions more meaning. The production left me wanting to know more about these characters and their connections with each other because they are compelling, well written and acted.

I found “Crashlight” to be an exciting evening of theater. It is the voice of a group of young and talented artists lead by Celeste Makoff. She and Trevor Bumgarner are  both emerging stars in musical theater. I would not be surprised to see “Crashlight” developed more and brought back for another set of performances, hopefully in a venerable theater like Cherry Lane Theatre.

PeachPie Productions’
The Cherry Lane Theatre
Three out of Four Stars
August 25th- September 11th, 2016