Thursday, July 18, 2013

Spin in the SigLab at Signature Theatre Virginia

Signature Theatre is giving audiences the chance to see the birth of a new musical through their SigLab program. For a very reasonable price of $30 a ticket it is possible to see this very good production of a promising new work before it travels to South Korea for its next incarnation.

Yes, South Korea. Spin, based on the South Korean Film whose English title translates to Speedy Scandal, is a fun confection of musical theatre just perfect for a summer date night. The staging is minimal, reusing the set from the recently closed production of Company. With a very witty book by Brian Hill and music and lyrics by Neil Bartram, there are  a few places where the script could use some tweaking. This is to be expected in a brand new play. The creators are best known for their very short lived Broadway show, The Story of My Life. It's easier to predict a much longer life for Spin.

Evan Peterson was once the lead singer of a popular boy band. He struck out on his own and his solo career tanked. Evan now hosts an early morning music contest show. His rival, Richard Riddle, is the local gossip reporter looking for a juicy scandal to bring him fame. A popular caller to the program is Makalo, a young woman searching for her father. Evan discovers he's Makalo's father when she shows up on his doorstep with a grandson in tow. To force a connection, Makalo becomes a contestant on the show. When a viral video brings the local show national exposure Evan faces a dilemma.  Will he ride the exposure to revive his own career or acknowledge his new found family. Meanwhile, Richard is sniffing around trying to expose Evan's secret for his own personal gain.

Spin is filled with a lot of fun characters and the small ensemble under the direction of Eric Schaeffer makes them fully realized human beings.  The studio chorus not only provides the typical background singers for the tv show within the show, they also act as a all-knowing chorus commenting hilariously at certain points in the story.

Young Holden Browne is sweet and adorable as the grandson Jesse. Stephen Russell Murray starts out rather ominously as the potential internet stalker, Danny, who turns into a slightly creepy yet sweet love interest for Makalo. Erin Driscoll does her best with the only normal person in the story, the teacher Allison Reynolds.

Our villain comes very close to stealing the show. Bobby Smith as Richard Riddle is a slimeball through and through. Yet he wins cheers not jeers when he opens act two with the great production number, "Everybody Loves a Scandal." If this production is Helen Hayes eligible, do not be surprised to see Mr. Smith remembered come nomination time.

Carolyn Cole has become a welcome staple of Signature productions since she played Tracy in Hairspray. Here she gets to show off her amazing rock and roll belt as Makalo. Yet, under her emotional armor there is a vulnerable young woman desperate to connect with the father she never knew and Ms. Cole is compelling in both the comedic scenes and the heartbreaking emotional core of the story. Highlights include her biting delivery of the song, "All I Wanted From You." On a gentler note the trio "Little Frog"sung by Ms. Cole, James Gardiner's Evan and Jamie Eacker's Latrissa Washington is a sweet little gem about family connection.

Another long time Signature veteran tackles the boy singer who doesn't want to grow up Evan Peterson. At first you may feel that James Gardiner is too young to play a grandfather. The script provides the clues to the math. These are teenage pregnancies  Evan sleeps with Makalo's mother when he was 15, Makalo is 22 and has a 6 year old son. That makes Evan at the most 38. So, while it seems implausible making the character a grandpa in his late 30's leads to some very funny moments, especially when he trains his grandson to be his wingman. Mr. Gardiner embodies the devil-may-care playboy yet he taps a great inner strength to pull off the yearning to really belong to a family that Evan hides so well.

Spin is being performed in The Max theatre at Signature Theatre through July 27, 2013. It is being produced in association with OD Company. For tickets and other performance information please visit

For a great article on the origin and development of this show please read The Washington Post theatre critic Peter Marks article at

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