'RAW: an "emotional" musical review by Farmington Valley Stage Company

Nancy Sasso Janis

OnStage Connecticut Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle

“Music is the shorthand of emotions.”- Leo Tolstoy
“Why does this pianist hate me?” - Catherine in “Climbing Uphill” in ‘The Last Five Years’

Collinsville, CT - The Farmington Valley Stage Company presents their productions in the lovely Canton Town Hall Auditorium in Collinsville CT. Their latest show is entitled ‘RAW: an “emotional” musical review’ that was conceived and directed by Dianna Waller with musical direction by Beckie Wallace. RAW focuses on songs that convey emotion, from “insecure” (“What Do You Do With Your Arms?”), to “smitten” (“Taylor the Latte Boy”), to “disheartened” (“Where In The World is My Prince?”), and “desperate” (“He Ain’t Mr. Right”), to name just a few. 

The talented Ms. Waller, usually seen on area community theatre stages like the Warner and Musicals at Richter (and also at this venue,) easily takes on the directorial role for this emotional musical review. There are songs that make us laugh, others that are achingly sad and we cruise through just about every other emotion in between. The vast majority of them were unfamiliar to me, but that didn’t take away from their impact. Delivered by this cast of seven, containing some names I knew and a few I did not, all of the musical pieces worked well.

The two acts kick off with “The Name Game” to introduce the entire cast, complete with choreography and one lucky audience member. After that, most of the carefully chosen numbers are performed as solos, making the two duets memorable. Not to imply that the solos are inferior; each one is a little vignette of a wide variety of emotional journeys. I won’t list every single one of the numbers that I enjoyed at the final dress rehearsal, but I will mention my personal favorite of the songs performed by each member of the cast. 

This unique musical revue features a cast of seven talented performers. Tracy Funke, a powerhouse singer that appeared in this company’s ‘Forbidden Broadway,’ was very funny performing “Miss Byrd” but was at her best singing “Oh, How I Loved You” by Marcy Heilsler and Zina Goldrich. Al Girard, also a ‘Forbidden Broadway’ veteran, was very funny with “What Do You Do With Your Arms?” by Sam Carner.

I always enjoy getting to hear Sybil Chamberlain sing and this busy mom makes her debut with FV in ‘RAW.’ Of all the pieces that she performed, I liked “Fifty Percent” by Alan and Marilyn Bergman from the musical ‘Ballroom’ the best. Katherine Ray also acted out some great quirky pieces, like the one quoted above from ‘The Last Five Years.’ However, my favorite of her four numbers was “The Babysitter,” where she channeled a young girl adoring the teen who is her best sitter. 

Nick Komons, a senior at The Gilbert School who just played Eubie in ‘The Happy Elf’ by Landmark Community Theatre, was at his best singing “Taylor’s Rebuttal” by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich. Kudos to this young actor who will be playing Albert Peterson in his school’s upcoming ‘Bye, Bye Birdie.’ Jim Woods, most often on the Warner stage, gets a “featuring” credit in this musical review. He is as funny as always in his various cameo appearances and brought down the house as a cat in “Party Hat” with Ms. Ray.

Sophie Rundhaug, a senior at Wooster School in Danbury, makes her debut with this company and it was an impressive one for one so young. This lovely singing actress is blessed with an incredible amount of talent and showed if off in every one of her four numbers. She played the female half of “Taylor, the Latte Boy” and sang a beautiful version of the Marvin Hamlish/Howard Ashman piece “Disneyland” from the show ‘Smile.’ Most memorable for me was the payoff for a running gag involving “The Understudy.” The song contains many Broadway references and this singer reminded me of Idina Menzel even before she went for the “Defying Gravity” riff. 

Of course, Ms. Wallace played every single musical number perfectly on the onstage keyboard and she was backed up by a fine upright bass player. The wide variety of musical styles demanded accomplished accompanists and a supportive musical director.

Doreen Cohn is the Executive/Artistic Director of FV and served as producer. Ken Jones is VP and Technical Director, and Ron Faibusch is President of the stage company. Cindy Braunlich serves as costume designer and costume shop manager and oversaw the all-black outfits with just the smallest punches of color in the props, managed by Dian Pomeranz. Lighting and sound were both of high quality in this space.

The Town Hall in Collinsville is relatively easy to find and there is on-street parking available nearby. The fancy folding chairs feature cushions in primary colors and are quite comfortable. The songs in “RAW” will evoke emotions from humor to nostalgia. The review opens January 13, and continues January 14, 20, 21 at 8:00 pm. The running time: 2 hours with an intermission. Tickets: Online: $20 adults, $18 students, and seniors 65+ At the Door: $22 Adults, $20 students, and seniors 65+

Nancy Sasso Janis (@nancysjanis417) is one of the newest members of the Connecticut Critics Circle and publishes theatre news on local Patch.com sites. Check out her Facebook page Connecticut Theater Previews.