HomeTheater Review: "Perfect Harmony" at The Acorn Theater, NYC

vog's picture

Before I say anything, I have to make some disclaimers.  I never cared much for either reviews or critics.  Critics, especially mean ones, are ancillary to the creative process.  They don’t make art, but their job is to sit around and criticize it.  As one of my old mentors said, “Critics perform much the same function as eunuchs at an orgy.  They watch.”  And besides, any review is just one person’s subjective opinion, and should be taken as such.

I am also probably the wrong person to be reviewing this show, which is supposed to be about a high school a cappella group.  I have two glitches here.  The first is that I saw the show from the third row, and up close the cast is all twenty-something, so it looks like college rather than high school.  The dialogue, at least for the most part, feels older than high school as well.  When I found myself unable to accept the high school conceit, I just made up my mind that I was watching a show about a college a cappella group, the occasional high school references notwithstanding, and I was a lot more comfortable.  It wasn’t like opera, where you can, for no other reason than the opulence of a voice, happily suspend reality and believe for a few hours that you are watching a consumptive teen rather than an extremely healthy forty-year-old. 

The second glitch is that I didn’t have a normal college experience, so a fluffy, nostalgic look back at college – okay, high school - a cappella doesn’t push any emotional buttons for me.  So there’s that.

I believe that this show does have an audience.  If you smoked way too much dope in college, and were in an a cappella group but don’t remember much of it, this show might bring it all back for you.  The irritating neener-neener arrangements of mostly awkward ‘80’s songs (as one character says, “But the judges love those.  Old people love ‘80’s music.”) and the spoofy, dorky choreography could snap your addled memories back into place. 

The singing actors are all pros, and bring their best efforts to their parts.   The characters, however, don’t get much room to breathe in this script.  They are essentially all cardboard-ish stereotypes; the Jock, the Nerd, the Neurotic, the Hypochondriac, the WASP, the Uptight Closeted Gay Guy, the Jesus Freak, the Macho Croatian Rocker, the Crazy Voice Coach. As singers, they make up two competing groups, Lady Treble and the Acafellas.  Half of the cast of 10 do double duty.  For me the standouts are Marie-France Arcilla, who plays both Kerri Taylor, the nerdy, Tourette’s syndrome-afflicted group manager and sycophant who turns out to have a kickass voice, and also the nutty voice coach Tobi McClintoch, and David Barlow in the roles of Simon Depardieu, the scared, wimpy, auditioning freshman who forgets himself and rocks out, and crazy-haired Goran Dhiardeaubovic, the Croatian heavy metal guitarist. 

And then there’s the singing.  I admit to an expectation here.  I figured that a show about a cappella and titled “Perfect Harmony” would include some high-powered vocal fireworks.  Since I have judged a number of a cappella competitions, I’ve heard some stunning high school and college a cappella groups, so I have an idea of what a motivated amateur group can achieve and I don’t feel that a Broadway representation of same has to be made up of stellar vocalists.  But it sure would be nice.  This cast is what I would term actors who sing.  Certainly competent acting skills are needed in this show far more than honker voices, and there are some sweet harmonic moments from the cast, but – I admit it – I expected more ‘sangin’ fer the blood’ in this show. 

The show would have more visceral impact if the singers were amplified.  The theater is one of those acoustically dead spaces, designed so that an audience can easily decipher the spoken word.  It is unkind to singers.  A little reverb in the space would warm up the thin sound of the ensemble. 

The piece follows the Broadway model that favors innocuous, contrived, non-challenging entertainment, an attempt perhaps at a live version of ‘Glee.’  The plot follows the two a cappella groups as they prepare for a final competition that is also going to be televised.  Internal stresses, like ancient ancestral grudges, dissent over repertoire and choreography, group urinalysis results, and who’s the leader of the band tear the groups apart, but it all works out in the happy finale.  Whew.  I was worried. 

This show has some charming, funny, endearing moments.   If you have misty nostalgia about your college, uh, high school a cappella days this offering might be for you. 

PERFECT HARMONY (http://perfectharmonyrocks.com/) is currently running at the The Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (410 W 42nd St) in New York City

Perfect Harmony
Written by Andrew Grosso and The Essentials
Directed by Andrew Grosso
The Acorn Theater at Theater Row
410 West 42nd Street
tickets available through Telecharge 212 239 6200
or www.telecharge.com
on sale until November 13th

About the author:
Barry Carl is permanently enshrined in the a cappella pantheon as the basso de tutti bassi due to his long and brilliant tenure as the thunderous underpinnings of Rockapella.  He also writes short stories, articles, and the occasional review.  He lives in upstate New York with his family of gorgeous women and one very mean but cuddly-if-you-know-her Lhasa Apso.  He vibes with Eeyore and gravitates to healers of all kinds.