From left: Brett Warner Hurt, Calvin Scott Roberts, Nikki McDonald and Angel Velasco in&nbsp;<em>Edges</em>&nbsp;at PFAMily Arts

Review: Edges | PFAMily Arts | PFAMily Arts Center

At the Edge of Everything

PFAMily Arts closes the year with an excellent staging of Edges, an early work from the musical duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

published Monday, December 16, 2013

Photo: Daniel Fermaint
From left: Brett Warner Hurt, Calvin Scott Roberts, Nikki McDonald and Angel Velasco in Edges at PFAMily Arts

PlanoEdges is a most unusual musical. It is really a song cycle for four young performers. It could be staged with nothing more than four stools, with one singer perched on each. The songs, about the perils of moving from the teen years to adulthood, speak for themselves with the excellently written lyrics—some clever and funny while others are moving and introspective. PFAMily Arts, a theater company in Plano, chooses to stage the cycle using a minimal set, multi-colored planks creating a backdrop, platforms of different heights, a few chairs and a hyperactive sofa.

The creative team behind the music and book is the team known as Pasek and Paul, a duo made up of Tony nominees Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. They wrote the show when they were both 20 somethings at the University of Michigan, so they knew about the emotions they explored in this show first hand. They were living it at the time.

The pair has gone on to bigger fame and fortune with musical adaptations of A Christmas Story and James and the Giant Peach, as well as Dogfight, an off-Broadway hit in 2012 that will be locally staged at WaterTower Theatre in 2014. They are best known, however, as songwriters on NBC's Smash. Also of note: Edges, their first show, won them the Jonathan Larson Award in 2007. This prize is named after the late composer of the award-winning hit Rent, and is highly coveted. 

The star of this production is not onstage, but behind the colorful geometric backdrop. That would be Mark Mullino, who directed both the stage action and the music. Further, he does an amazing job at the piano, offering energetic and supple support for the singers. His minimalist staging is clever and keeps moving, with the stage movement a fast-paced as the songs.

The cast is made up of four talented and attractive young singers/actors who look to be the 20- somethings that they portray. There is little doubt that they have all experienced, are experiencing,  the situations these songs explore. Indeed, we all have at one time or another: coming out or not, the difficulty of who first says “I love you” in a relationship, feeling your life is going nowhere or careening out of control, women finding out their new “perfect” boyfriend is gay, too many empty friends, no friends, depression, too much Facebook, and other trials of the difficult transition to adulthood.

The four actors are all excellent. Of them, Brett Warner Hurt was the standout on Saturday evening when I attended. Her body movement, sometimes graceful and other times gawky, shows classical dance training. Her facial expressions tell as much as the lines she delivers. In one scene, where she was listening, her face eloquently (and humorously) told exactly how she was reacting to every word being spoken by the other character. She was believable in every moment.

The other three were also terrific. Angel Velasco was adorable as the high-voltage gay guy. Calvin Scott Roberts showed that being straight does not end your problems, it only changes them (and not much). Nikki McDonald was wonderful as the conflicted woman facing too many forks in the road simultaneously. 

It is unfortunate that all of the voices were amplified. While it is understood that all Broadway-type shows use amplification, the Wingspan Advisors Theater in PFamily’s complex is a small space and such amplification is completely unnecessary. All four voices sounded shrill when they went into overdrive. It is impossible to tell if this was something incorrect with their vocal production or caused by the face microphone and the system it pumped through.

That one reservation aside, this is a first-class production of a very clever show. You may not have another chance to see it anytime soon, especially in such an excellent production. The show moves quickly and, by the end, you feel like you really have come to know these four folks. You emphasize with them and they awaken memories of your own past, your highs and lows, as once—long ago—you negotiated the same rapids of that dangerous passageway into full adulthood. Thanks For Reading

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At the Edge of Everything
PFAMily Arts closes the year with an excellent staging of Edges, an early work from the musical duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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