Lies & Legends: The Musical Stories of Harry Chapin, words and music by Harry Chapin. Original concept by Joe Stern. Directed by Joe Antoun.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Jerielle Morwitz and Trey Compton; photo provided
"Gonna have a good time then..."
Harry Chapin wrote songs that rivaled the French chansons of Jacques Brel in a very American idiom. Popular at about the same time and fighting the shadow of Bob Dylanís raspy reality, the international impact of smoky -voiced Charles Aznevour and the creepy wholesomeness of a very young John Denver, Chapin never achieved the highest level of success enjoyed by his most immediate rivals. Nevertheless a loyal following and some remarkable songs kept his career alive and viable.
"Catís in the Cradle" was his only number one hit song and that happened in 1974. While not his only hit and not necessarily his most enduring song, it is a highlight of the second act of the show "Lies & Legends" now playing at the Theatre Barn in New Lebanon, New York. Five singer/actors bring to life the songs and stories of Harry Chapin in this non-stop, relentless revue. Accompanied by piano, bass and drums (Logan Culwell, Walter Bauer, Ian Tucksmith), a perfect trio for this show, Trey Compton, Lara Hayhurst, Jerielle Morwitz, Allen E. Phelps, and Christopher Timson do their best to enliven these story-based songs. Some do much better than others this time around.
Jerielle Morwitz is a wonderful performer. She really seems incapable of doing something wrong. Her rendition of "Dogtown" (And the lonely whispers of the waves) is a memorable event. Her ensemble work, her duets and her musical scene work are all essential ingredients to the success of this show. Her only rival, or equal, in the presentation of these pieces is Allen E. Phelps. Phelps is, more often, the lighting designer at this theater, but his musical appearances are often highlights and this is certainly no exception. In two songs, the above mentioned "...Cradle" and another major Chapin hit which comes near the start of Act Two, "W*O*L*D" (#36 on the 1974 charts) are showstoppers.
Next best, if there can be such a thing, is soprano Lara Hayhurst who wins the night with her performance of "Dreams Go By" - a beautiful experience indeed, especially duetting with Phelps. She also has one of the best moments in Act One, "Winter Song."
The other two men, while nice to look at, arenít much to hear. Christopher Timson, when he sings out sings decently. I think itís a nice voice, but he seems to have trained for a body microphone for even in aisle F - the fifth row, folks, he was hard to hear most of the time. Even worse was Trey Compton whose singing voice may not have made it past the first row in this eight row theater. Even his monologue in the second act was almost impossible to hear. Both of these men have a lot do in Act One which made that first hour a boring experience.
The set for this show is a mixture of elegant and folksy, showy and practical. It was designed by Tim Baumgartner. The simple and under-altered costumes were created, or approved, by Michelle Bohn while Tracey Richardson pulled together some intriguing lighting for this show.
Joe Antoun, arranged his quintet around the stage in ways that began to seem similar to images weíd had before and ultimately became a bit boring. I am sorry to note that he didnít force his performers to perform and so lost his audienceís interest in some complex material that should have demanded more attention.
An uneven production creates an uneven reaction. Whatís good here is very good and whatís not may not be able to endure improvements. Still itís always fun to be reminded of old favorite songs that have long since faded away.
Lies & Legends plays through August 8 at the Theatre Barn on Route 20 west of New Lebanon, NY. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-794-8989.