Nancy Sasso Janis
- Connecticut Critics Circle/OnStage Connecticut Critic
Wallingford, CT - The Square Foot Theatre had the honor to present the world premiere of ‘Eddie and the Palaceades,’ a musical with book and lyrics by Roy O’Neil and music by Stephen Feigenbaum. It was at Mr. O’Neil’s invitation that I attended the final matinee on a beautifully spring-like Sunday afternoon. SFT is celebrating their tenth season and 59th production, and Executive and Artistic Director Jared Andrew Brown thanked the writer for trusting them with presenting his original musical.
SFT does not always welcome reviewers, but I did get to see their wonderful production of ‘Children of Eden.’ The first thing I noticed is that they flipped the house so that the stage now runs along what was a side wall. It looked so different that I felt like I was in a different venue, but the new arrangement seemed to accommodate more patrons. Mr. O’Neil told me that his show has been running to sold-out crowds.
‘Eddie and the Palaceades’ (not to be confused with Gerry and the Pacemakers) is an all-original musical about a 60s era band from Waterbury, CT, referred to as “Brass City.” The fictional band appeared on American Bandstand as well as Ed Sullivan and they opened for the Beatles. After a 30 year hiatus to raise their children, the empty nesters are ready to restart their musical career with a benefit concert to save the Palace Theater. Yes, Waterbury’s Palace Theater, because the story was inspired by people, places and events associated with the Brass City, which was twice (!) rated by Money Magazine’s as the worst city in America.
The writing team is made up of a baby boomer (Mr. O’Neil) and a millennial (Mr. Feigenbaum) but both are Yale graduates. (Coincidentally, the new home of the SFT is in the Yale Shopping Center on Yale Avenue in Wallingford.) The different generations of the writing team yielded what I thought was a charming mix of freshness and nostalgia in a story with original characters and more than 18 new songs.
Those characters include lead singer Eddie Doyle (played by Brian Ozenne with a fine singing voice,) his wife Gracie and their now adult daughter Mary. Eddie’s best friend Vinny Moriarty was the third member of the band who has lost the wife, the best songwriter the band ever had. The officials trying to raze the beloved Palace Theater include Mayor Big E. Williams (play by Sarah Golley) and her three alderman cronies.
The show opens with the band members singing “Welcome to the Palace” and then the very sixties “Bangarang.” Songs that moved along the plot included “Write About That,” “Spread My Wings,” and “I’m Fed Up, I’m Leaving.” Second act plot pushers included “Rip It Up,” (as in the Money Magazine) “C’mon Eddie You Can Do It,” and ‘Injunction.” Knowing that the final number before the bows is entitled “Back Together” is an indication of the ending.
Both acts moved along quickly, with speedy set and costume changes and the entire piece struck me as perfect for Off-Broadway. I loved the antics of the trio of alderman. Mr. O’Neil shared with me that as a result of feedback received that the show was too long and had too many threads of subplots, he cut some 20 pages from the script. While I do not know what was cut, I wonder if some of it would have fleshed out the supporting characters a bit. It was fun keeping an eye and ear open for the Waterbury references in the script.
Patrick Laffin directed this new work and Jennifer Kaye served as the choreographer. Alan Dougherty is the resident music director and conducted the three-piece orchestra from the back corner of the room.
Mr. Ozenne had good stage presence in the leading role of Eddie. Francis Michael did well as his sidekick Vinny. Toniann Carey had the musical pipes to sing her big numbers “I Want to Go Out and Sing” and “Fires of Spring.” Heidi Schulte also sang well as the conflicted daughter and was a natural onstage.
Ms. Golley had a big voice to match the personality of the shady mayor of Brass City and Mike Trzciensky, Jessica Giannone and Heather Bazinet had some funny moments as the trio of alderman. Karen Sportino was the only member of the ensemble and covered several parts.
The set was decorated with old Palace Theater posters and there were references to WATR radio, as well as a conglomerate company with initials that spell LULU. As a show of solidarity on opening night, representatives from Waterbury’s Palace Theater included Frank Tavera, Jennifer Zembruski, Sheree Marcucci and WATR’s Tom Chute, the King of Culture.
SFT is proudly sponsored by Jamie A. Hulley Arts Foundation.
Nancy Sasso Janis is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and continues to contribute theatre news to Patch. Follow her new Facebook page Nancy Sasso Janis: Theatre Reviewer and on Twitter @nancysjanis417