On Stage: Signature Theatre: Spin

Makalo (Carolyn Cole) and Evan (James Gardiner) rehearse a song for national television in 
“Spin.” The show 
plays at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through July 27, 2013. Photo: Teresa Wood.
Makalo (Carolyn Cole) and Evan (James Gardiner) rehearse a song for national television in  “Spin.” The show  plays at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through July 27, 2013. Photo: Teresa Wood.
Makalo (Carolyn Cole) and Evan (James Gardiner) rehearse a song for national television in“Spin.” The show
plays at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through July 27, 2013. Photo: Teresa Wood.

She Said:

Gifts. Everyone has them. What do you do with them? Do you sing your heart out on stage every night or every morning in the shower? Are you too afraid to share your gifts with the world- worrying about what people will think about you? Or does your desire to find value and receive praise from other drive how you use your gifts? Gifts and how they are shared and passed down are a huge focus of the siglab’s production of the new musical Spin.

Spin (with book by Brian Hill and music & lyrics by Neil Bartram) is a thoughtful, yet fun contemporary musical. While some contemporary musicals are either completely whimsical or startlingly acerbic, Spin tells a moving story and still will leave audiences singing the catchy music. It’s based on the Korean film Speedy Scandal and tells the story of a former pop singer who is now reduced to hosting a morning talk/American Idol style show. His freewheeling, free-loving life takes a turn when a daughter and her son (his grandson!) enter his life. The characters go on a journey to learn about their gifts and how they share them with each other and the world.

One of the really cool things about the performance of Spin is that it’s been staged in conjunction with their awesome siglab program. This means that the audience is treated to a performance of a show that’s so new the authors are still working on it and use the audience reaction to further perfect the work. While the show is presented with limited technical elements, I have to say that I really thought that the costumes, lighting and set really did inform the given circumstances nicely. The story has a few little problems (I never did understand the rules of Idol Chatter) and some of the names are a touch exotic (Makalo, Adana, Latrissa) and stand out as being juxtaposed too strongly to the more ordinary names (Evan, Alison, Jesse, Richard). It feels like there’s a heavy emphasis placed on the meaning of names. While I love knowing the meaning of my own name I don’t periodically announce it means pure. There are a few confusing bits with the ending of the show and I think moving the slideshow might help that.  I don’t think the placement of the last number works (after curtain call), although it’s an awesome song! All of the music is really great; I can’t even list all my favorite numbers because it would take too long.

James Gardiner gives a multi-layered performance as former pop singer, Evan Peterson. He’s truly one of my favorite local performers and I would listen to him sing the phone book. I can’t look at a photograph or camera right now without hearing “Click”. Carolyn Cole presents a very well balanced performance of Makalo, a woman who can be tough on her father and gentle with her son. The cast members were all very talented and truly performed well. Some of the standouts of the from the rest of the cast were Erin Driscoll’s endearing portrayal of Alison, Bobby Smith’s petty and unctuous Richard Riddle and Maria Rizzo’s spot on portrayal of teen pop singer, Brianna. I laughed so hard at her wonderful performance of “ Baby, I Want You, Want You, Want You” and I haven’t stopped singing it since I saw the show.

Television show contestant Brianna (Maria Rizzo) croons a lovesick tune in “Spin.” The show plays at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through July 27, 2013. Photo: Teresa Wood.
Television show contestant Brianna (Maria Rizzo) croons a lovesick tune in “Spin.”The show plays
at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through July 27, 2013. Photo: Teresa Wood.

This show is wonderful. I’m only disappointed that I can’t see it again or buy a CD from it. I’m still singing the music days after seeing it. When I first saw a video of Carolyn Cole and James Gardiner singing “I Have a Gift”, I was impressed and had chills. But, I wondered if the entire show would live up to the quality and heart of that one song. Spin exceeded my high expectations and was a wonderful evening at the theater. It’s a funny and sweet show that does deal with some of the foibles of sharing your gift on a large scale (being famous), but isn’t salacious. The music is great and the show is visually impressive as well.  It’s only running a few more weeks and I can’t encourage you enough to go see this show while you can!

Kari’s Rating- 9

Alison (Erin Driscoll, left) and Evan (James Gardiner) take some first steps toward trusting each  other as Evan’s grandson Jesse (Holden Browne) and daughter Makalo (Carolyn Cole) take  some first steps toward trusting him. “Spin” plays at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through July 27, 2013.  Photo: Teresa Wood.
Alison (Erin Driscoll, left) and Evan (James Gardiner) take some first steps toward trusting eachother as Evan’s grandson Jesse (Holden Browne) and daughter Makalo (Carolyn Cole) takesome first steps toward trusting him. “Spin”
plays at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through July 27, 2013.
Photo: Teresa Wood.

He Said: 

Spin is a new musical that is being workshopped at the Signature Theatre through their Siglabs project.  After it’s way too short run here, it’s being translated into Korean and put on in Korea.I want to start out by saying that I think it’s a huge honor as a critic to be invited to see a show workshopped.  When a show is “done” your review is what it is, and it really doesn’t affect the show that much in the long run.But with something like this, our feedback as critics could have big impact on the finished product.Thank you Signature Theatre for that honor.

This show was awesome.I’ve seen “finished” shows that weren’t half as entertaining or enjoyable.The music was just great.All of the songs make sense and are catchy and well written.  I was sad that there wasn’t a cast album I could buy.

The performances were stellar.James Gardiner does a great job here as the lead, Evan.I could listen to him read the phone book and then sing the yellow pages.  I liked his performance here even better than when I’d seen him in The Last Five Years“Click” is probably the best-written pop songs I’ve ever heard, and sounds just like something a former boybander like Evan would craft in the second act of his career.  He does a great job with the comedy in “Family Tree” and “Wingman.” Bobby Smith was also riveting as Richard Riddle.  His number “Everybody Loves a Scandal” at the top of the second act was golden.  I loved his tap dancing and it was over too soon.

Richard Riddle (Bobby Smith) taps his way through a song and into a mess of secrets in “Spin.”  The show  plays at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through July 27, 2013. Photo: Teresa Wood.
Richard Riddle (Bobby Smith) taps his way through a song and into a mess of secrets in “Spin.”The show
plays at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through July 27, 2013. Photo: Teresa Wood.

One of the things they are looking to improve on here is the plot, and it still needs a little work.  There is nothing that truly decreases the joy of this show, but there are some points in this world that need to be clarified.  The nature of the show that Evan hosts is a little nebulous.  It’s a morning show called Idol Chatter, but all we see of it are two segments: the Rising Stars Competition, and Riddle’s gossip segments.  I understand it be important that Riddle and Evan be adversaries, but I don’t know if they need to be on the same show.  Or for that matter, for the show even to be a morning show?  Could it just be a local talent competition?  I was also unsure about the rules of this apparently round robin competition that allowed for a rematch to occur in the finale.  The titular song “Spin” is also a great finale that would require the ending to change to accommodate it, but it would be well worth it.

RJ Rating- 9

(Signature Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets for this post.)

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