Vanishing Point – Singing (Like a Boss) For Your Supper

A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS

The Oracle and I decided to experience Vanishing Point, Stillpointe’s current intriguing “new musical” (first produced in 1997, making it sweet sixteen, is that new?) by Rob Hartmann, with lyrics by Liv Cummins & Scott Keys, together, as we’re tight like that.  BFF’s FOREVER, heartsignmadewithmyhands-dot-com.  In other words, total Pumpkin Spice Latte Basic Bitches [Mmmmhmmm.  Achilles is my best friend.  We’re also siblings, torrid lovers and, in a strange twist, he happens to be my mother. – TBO].  Upon entering, we were offered a seat in the center, and gazed upon the collaboratively designed set (design by Ryan Haase and Church + Company’s Alexander Fox).  The “Anthropologie meets grandma’s attic” aesthetic we’ve come to expect from Haase was beautifully executed.  Upcycled wooden pallets create the back wall, there’s a random placement of vintage lamps, books, and knick-knacks strewn about thoughtfully, but not too thoughtfully.  The strategically placed ambient and practical lighting is spot-on.  Gorgeous, as always, and the beautiful venue helps with a supporting role of vaulted ceilings and Gothic window architecture.  The performing area is a sort of capital-letter T shape, thrusting a runway type platform (well constructed by lead carpenter Nolan Cartwright) down the center of the audience space.  At the end of this runway awaits a derelict typewriter on a old ornate table, some burning candles, and what-not.  Viewing this musical as a cohesive visual picture, the 3 mirrors hanging up-stage and this awaiting typewriter station of sorts are really the only elements that support the writing/story in this designed environment (it’s hard to tell where the set stops, and where the venue starts, hence: environment).  But for some reason, this enigmatic disconnect is totally okay in here.  And what the hell, it’s purdy dammit [Agree – TBO]!  I don’t understand the flying couch –but I don’t need to. #TeamHaase [Also a shout-out to Ryan’s outfit #TeamHasseJacket – TBO]

This piece of musical theatre is seriously bold.  #SRSLY.  For starters, three female performers take the roles of historical heroines:  famous pilot and “Lady Lindy” Amelia Earhart (Ines Nassara), prolific bloodless mystery writer Agatha Christie (Zoe Kanter), and “God’s Little Daughter”, evangelical preacher Aimee Semple McPherson (Nina Kauffman) [Interestingly, there is already a musical about the life of Aimee Semple McPherson called Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson written by, of all people, Kathy Lee Gifford.  I saw it at Signature Theatre a few years back.- TBO].  Secondly, musical theatre veteran Rob Hartmann composes music for this piece in clearly themed vignettes punctuated by wonderfully cheeky lyrics and book.  His compositions’ style and professionalism are straight up Broadway and it’s obvs the amount of work that went into this score.  That music is not easy-peasy to play, either, and it is performed well using only a keyboard (played by music director Ben Shaver) and clarinet (Stacey Antoine) [I could not fucking believe that there were only two musicians in this, I had to go back and check the program, but damned if you aren’t right, Achilles.  Fuck, they were good! – TBO].   The plot (if there is one to be found – I was sure waiting for an arc): Vanishing Point explores the semi-historical lives of these powerhouse ladies up until that moment, that Vanishing Point, in which they all disappear.  Historically these “mysterious” disappearances did not happen simultaneously and the individual vanishings were isolated occurrences with Christie and McPherson disappearing six months apart in 1926, and Earhart a good 11 years later in 1937.  What is especially interesting is that the first two women did not really ghost, but may have staged their run out for personal reasons.  Both would later came out of hiding to continue living their lives.  It is common knowledge that Earhart and her plane were never found, leading most to believe she probably died a horrible death over (or in?) the open ocean during her famous equatorial transatlantic flight.  Hartmann’s musical shows us all the supporting characters in each of these three ladies’ lives.  We see the overbearing families, reporters, and public push these heroines to drastic measures.

And that’s just act one.

In act two, things get a bit weird.  The three ladies break the proverbial 4th wall and begin to interact with each other (previously they did not act as though they were in the same time nor story), and we wonder where this whole thing is going.  Nothing really happens to develop a plot.  Instead, we go all concept-y on ya ass.  Supposedly, in act two, we are seeing how these ladies lives could have been different, how they may have changed their own fates, or what might have happened if they actually had met each other.  It plays out a bit like a farce, which at times was fine, but other times I felt was disrespectful to these herstories and respective legacies.  I dunno, perhaps it was just how drastic the switch was from history to fantasy.  This writer’s choice was not a failure, it was just a bit jarring and took a bit of viewer adjustment.

The show’s 10 gajillion characters are pulled off superbly.  Nassara, Kanter and Kauffman dance around these personalities so flawlessly and quickly that their talent makes it seem as though there are at least ten actors in the cast.  Kudos to them for the multiple personalities!  And damn, let’s talk about those voices for a moment.  Oh. My. Gawd. Those voices.  Haase and the Stillpointe team picked a stellar trifecta of pipes to pull off this musical.  Listen up people, when you produce and cast a musical, your cast better had be able to sing it.  This team brought the rain.  The three voices were perfectly complimentary during every ensemble moment [Yep.  There was one moment, where the three were playing the mothers of the main characters, singing to their daughters, that fucking took. my. breath. away. – TBO]  Not a single beat or syllable was missed by anybody (orchestra of two included).  I think I’d let any one of them sing me the phone book [Is there still such a thing as a phone book? – TBO].  Ines Nassara was designed for emoting and the stage.  She belted the notes and kept the vibrato clean and clear.  Zoe Kanter used a delicate touch of whimsy, a consistent British accent, and subtle intonation to breathe life into her wordsmith [It took a second, but I finally realized that I saw Kanter in Stillpointe’s Sweeney Todd as a crazy feral Joanna and I LOVED her in it.  Loved her here, too! – TBO].  And Nina Kauffman was brassy, ballsy, and provided a counter-compliment to the other two voices.  All together Haase nailed the casting in this production and Shaver’s music direction = perfection.  Watching Haase’s work with STI progress over their past few shows (Little Shop, Sweeney, and now Vanishing Point) proves he is developing and growing as a director not to be reckoned with.  While small parts of this show stagnated, he kept the direction moving and the choreography was motivated, artisanal, and clear.  The ladies clearly used his guidance to develop strong and believable characters.  Oh, and also – last time the Oracle and I attended a performance at C+C  we almost broke our necks on the dark stairwell; we’re ever so happy it  was lit appropriately this time.

The Bottom Line:  Still Pointe Theatre Initiative’s Vanishing Point is quite the piece of musical theatre.   Well designed, well played, exceptionally sung, and wonderfully performed by all contributing parties.  The text and themes are, at times, a bit off-kilter, but the music was amazing and the cast and directorial choices make it easy to overlook any lingering textual strangeness.  Church and Company is a lovely venue and I’m excited to see how this space progresses over the coming shows.  Go see STI’s Vanishing Point.  It’s truly pretty kick ass!

SECOND OPINION?

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2 comments

  • You’ve convinced us to go to this one! We loved Sweeney Todd earlier this year. I have to say (both of) your reviews are really helping us remember to check out theater in Baltimore more often… I think we need to get you a wider readership! 🙂

  • You know I love a WIDE readership! Thanks for your continued support E!

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