You gotta love a phrase that begins with the words "it's only." Usually the noun that follows is something potentially daunting, but by setting up the "it's only" qualifier, there's a shrugging off.
In other words, "I got this."
Examples: "It's only a flesh wound," as blood spews profusely from said laceration; or "it's only you," as "you" turns out to be the shadowy, machete-wielding psycho in a slasher flick. Or, in the case of Theatre Three's highly enjoyable production of the John Bucchino revue It's Only Life, "life" turns out to be not as big an obstacle as the treacheries of love, including the reciprocated and unrequited kinds.
Oh, and watch out for the wall of sharp spikes behind the actors in T3's basement space, Theatre Too! In Jeffrey Schmidt's scenic design, the long upstage wall is filled with hundreds of newspaper-covered pointy cones as if to suggest a deadly action-movie trap from which the story's heroes have less than a minute to escape. And of course, they do, with milliseconds on the clock.
In this staging, directed by Michael Serrecchia with music direction by Terry Dobson, the cast never acknowledges the lethal wall of spikes. But those oversized thorns are there. The audience sees them, but thankfully we're too enchanted by the performances of Seth Grugle, Erica Harte, Jennifer Noth, Darius-Anthony Robinson and Angel Velasco to worry too much.
Bucchino is a composer who has been championed by musical theater aficianados. The songs have been recorded by New York actors with enough of a name to record albums. It's Only Life is a collection he put together, and debuted off-Broadway in 2006. This production is the second Bucchino revue T3 has done, and it followed their regional premiere of his musical A Catered Affair.
If Sally Soldo gave the best T3 performance so far this year in Catered, then the five young performers in It's Only Life come close to trumping that.
On a mostly empty set with movable benches and blocks (several locations are suggested, including bedrooms and subway stations), and in Bruce R. Coleman's mostly black costumes, the actors deliver 23 story and/or love songs (not including seven transitions) that range from poignant to introspective to humorous. Serrecchia gives them bits of acting so that as the lyrics speak of connections and opportunities missed or taken, the action adds another layer of storytelling.
It's not necessary, but not obstructive. Occasionally, especially with Robinson's facial expressions of annoyance, it's funny. Vocals are nicely done, never overpowering the tiny space. Noth is a standout as the character who's most often the third or fifth wheel, and captures the nuance of songs like "I'm Not Waiting" and "I've Learned to Let Things Go."
Harte shines on "This Moment," while Grugle's best are "If I Ever Say I'm Over You" and "On My Bedside Table." Velasco gets a big applause with "A Contact High."
Bucchino is obviously a Sondheim devotee. Not only do several songs mention Steve's name (including "Playbill," performed by Robinson), but the lyrical playfulness (especially in "Painting My Kitchen") and some of the compositional intricacies are clearly influenced by him. You could counter that with "who isn't influenced by Sondheim?"—but Bucchino has that rare gift to make his music, performed by Dobson on a stage left piano, sound simple, even as complexity is just under the surface.
His best known song is "Grateful," which has been performed by Brian Stokes Mitchell, among others. Robinson tackles it here, and sings it beautifully, letting his big gospel voice be soft when called for.
It's a lovely tune, although my favorites are "If I Ever Say I'm Over You" and "When You're Here" (performed by Grugle and Noth, respectively).
Have a listen to "If I Ever Say I'm Over You":
And "When You're Here":
Those are two of many terrific tunes, though. Theatre Three's cast does them justice, delivering T3's strongest musical in a long while.
Those spikes might be dangerous looking, but this fivesome doesn't need to be scared.
They got this.