Dallas — What happens when a plucky little girl meets a mysterious stranger in a boarding house in Paris? Oh, no no. Not that story.
Mirette, the 1996 musical by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt of The Fantasticks fame, with a book by Elizabeth Diggs, is based on the award-winning 1992 children’s picture book Mirette on the High Wire
In the book, and musical, a young French girl lives with her mother, a kind woman who runs a turn-of-the-century Parisian boarding house where circus people rent rooms. Mirette’s life is changed when a famous tightrope walker teaches her how to walk on “the wire.”
The Lyric Stage production of Mirette, which ran this past weekend at the Majestic Theatre, is part of their Wonder Women of Season 27 series. Director Richard Estes, who played the famous tightrope walker in the Lyric Stage production 20 years ago when they were based at Irving Arts Center, has assembled a solid cast for this whimsical show, although the slight plot and most of the 20 songs are not what you might expect from the team that wrote the memorable score from The Fantasticks.
Music director Bruce Greer conducts and plays the piano, joined by Jennifer Ferguson on the second piano, effectively accompanying the singers, and providing tingling dramatic cues from time to time.
The show has a winning young heroine in Emma Grace Freeman in the title role, who does a lovely rendition of “Maybe,” a song about how she hopes that someone will discover her special talent and give her the direction she longs for.
Christopher J. Deaton, a virile tenor with a true voice and lead roles in 15 Lyric productions, gives a subtly nuanced performance as Bellini, the famous tightrope walker who is running from a sudden failure of nerve. His voice is gruff and sad by turns in “Someone in the Mirror,” a song about how he is trying to escape his own fear by hiding from his adoring public, moving from place to place and seeking a miraculous return of the courage to return “to the clouds."
Deaton and Freeman sing a lovely duet in “Learning Who You Are,” a somewhat dutiful message but a song with a sweet melody and delivered with a sense of trust between the reluctant mentor and his eager young student.
Mary Gilbreath-Grim, as the hotel owner and Mirette’s loving mother, brings a down-to-earth caution to her song about the why it is ultimately best to keep one’s “Feet Upon the Ground.” Mirette is unconvinced, and neither are we by the stolid advice.
The humorously second-rate circus performers take up at least half the stage time of the two-hour show. They’re fun on their first appearance, but the songs they sing are somewhat clichéd versions of the musical canon. The Russian opera singer (a haughty Lois Sonnier Hart, returning from the 1999 production) has some fun with an extreme accent and jokes about Russian despair. Jeremiah Johnson is a fumbling juggler with terrible hair and many promises to pay his long-overdue rent. Colin Phillips is the round clown with a sad face that nobody laughs at. Annabelle Grace Woodard is amusing as a ballerina constantly skittering across the stage en pointe and trying to snare a rich American boyfriend.
Ryan Nuss and Rebecca Carroll bring much-needed energy to the boarding house scene as two athletic acrobats hanging from a circle as the pianos soar in unison, or simply by climbing on each other’s shoulders, while the troupe sings “The Show Goes On”, the requisite upbeat song to pep themselves into action.
After intermission and some expected revelations about who the moody tightrope walker really is, Freeman and Deaton do a lovely job singing their solos of “Sometimes You Need Someone” from either end of the high-wire. Deaton, especially, makes this song heartfelt and its simple message fresh.
Scenic designer Donna Marquet’s predominantly red and blue set suggests a roomy boarding house dining hall, which can be closed off with small screens to form a more intimate attic room or a child’s bedroom. Especially clever are the huge paintings of Paris rooftops seen through big windows hung high on the stage. When lowered at the finale, as student and teacher at last reach the high wire, the man and girl appear above the tallest buildings as they walk safely across a wide board set between sturdy metal support structures.
Costume coordinator Alastair Sigala Ramirez has everyone outfitted in well-fitted period outfits and wigs. The circus troupe are nicely gaudy in bright colors with illustrator-style clown and acrobat costumes.
The production wavers on the weaker songs, but the bright moments bring smiles. Kudos to the brave cast, and especially to the daring duo who hold the show together, right to the rooftop of the Majestic’s gilded stage.