Psychology professor Jake Kelly ( David Michael Trevino) has landed a job that will take him from Galveston, Texas to Los Angeles, California. The tenure track position is just the change Jake needs, or so his wife Barbara Kelly ( Maria Paris) thinks. He arrives at the university to meet Klara ( Noel Britton), an overworked, guarded administrative assistant for the department. Her defensive, self-effacing nature immediate makes Jake want to “fix” her. The moment she mentions having a difficult time talking to men, Jake also knows he has to find her one.
Enter Max ( Alexander Lvovsky). Songwriter, single dad and father to Jedi-in-training, Nick ( Jeremy Herzig). Max can’t seem to stop torture himself over marrying a woman who would up and leave her family without warning. Even Nick can see that his dad needs “female companionship”. The boy has moved on from being abandoned and is focused on finding Max a girl through ads, the internet, whatever it takes. Upon visiting his ipano teacher, Jake too thinks he might have a girl for Max, in Klara. For Nick’s sake, Max agrees to exchange emails with Klara.
Progress with Klara is slow at first. Barbara reminds Jake to be Klara’s friend first. She comes to enjoy emailing Max. Eventually, Klara opens up about her childhood and her complicated relationship with her parents. As Jake continues to push, seeking out the root of her pain, Barbara must frequently remind Jake that not only is Klara not his patient, but she can not be helped until she wants to be; once again hinting that maybe it is Jake who wants and needs to be healed.
Butterfly is a pretty mixed bag. In all honesty, the problems and strengths of this production fall pretty much at a one-to-one ratio. Structurally, the play runs long in the first act. The chronology gets a bit confusing in the second act, but rights itself after two pseudo ending. The dialogue is a bit exposition heavy, sometimes restating exactly the wording used in the songs. But this company has chemistry. Despite every speed bump of awkwardness, the performances pull you back in. The amount of humor in the show was a welcomed surprise.
The score was good, but it would be better served with a bigger pit orchestra. Composer Michael Antin has combined some very interesting musical textures that are not done justice with just a keyboard and a bass. This ballad driven musical is inconspicuously favored with jazz and salsa. One more instrument – one more voice – could really make the music pop. At times the libretto did seem a bit forced, but Mr. Antin certainly gets bonus points for finding a rhyme for chrysalis.
Leading lady Noel Britton was great, hands down. She is the show’s best vocalist. Britton’s performance is sympathetic and vulnerable; she easily keeps the audience engaged in her character’s journey through the evening. Leading man David Michael Trevino is a pretty good vocalist but he is performing in a much bigger production than the rest of the cast. Young Jeremy Herzig was adorable and funny; now if he can dial back the precociousness a few notched, he’ll even have a totally credible performance. Alexander Lvovsky plays the songwriter who can’t sing. Vocally, he gets a get-out-of-jail-free card; as an actor, he doesn’t need one. Lvovsky’s shy single-Dad-ness is understated, earnest, and quite lovely. More of the Max character would have been good.
The players in the flashbacks landed the toughest gig of this production. Klara’s father Boris ( Michael Richardson) enacts cruelty and language that are pretty ugly onto themselves. But despite the violence, I never felt truly fearful for the women who were the target of his rage. However, Rachel Cyprus, as Young Klara, gives a couple of vocal performances that save those sequences as well. Her solos convey the pure misery that rescues the flashbacks from hyperbole and grounds them in a familiar, tangible sense of human tragedy.
The costumes choices and set design were highly functional. However, this production begs for more in the way of lighting design: more subtlety, more color. It would make a world of difference.
Butterfly is a pretty mixed bag. Director Derrel Maury has really got something here; there are lots of good pieces that have not yet gelled into a solid show. Now in its opening weekend, it is very hard to tell where this show will be once it has matured into a full grown production. I’m going to go out on a limb and call this one a diamond in the rough.
The World Premiere of the musical Butterfly is open now through February 19, 2011 at:
Write Act Repertory Theatre
6128 Yucca Street
Hollywood, CA 90028
(parking entrance in Carlos Avenue)
Thursdays-Saturdays @ 8pm
Photo Credit: Lou Briggs