It’s back ... that musical with the mouthful name that kicked up so much excitement last summer at the 2008 Cincinnati Fringe Festival: Don’t Make Me Pull This Show Over: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Parenting.
Only now Richard Oberacker’s and Robert Taylor’s no-plot, no-dialogue, five-person fantasia on parenting is longer by several minutes and significantly stronger thanks to the rearrangement of original elements and the addition of new music. Ensemble Theater of Cincinnati (ETC) bills the production as a premiere. Considering the changes, that’s close to true.
There are fewer singers and more songs, half of them new. The performance order has been rethought and rearranged into a logical, birth-to-maturity structure that plays very well. Added are five strong performances (two new since last summer), an alphabet-blocks set (Brian c. Mehring) and clear-cut musical support from conductor/keyboardist Scot Woolley and cohorts. Direction by CCM professor Richard Hess is pointed and energetic, though the staging can get arbitrary and there’s some climbing and posing on the set that looks like nothing but climbing and posing.
Overall result? A swift and zippy entertainment with a little angst, a little anger, a lot of kindness and enough worry and laughter to reflect the realities of parenting — in other words a pleasant way to spend an evening.
Keep this in mind: Don’t Make Me Pull This Show Over has no connective story and virtually no dialogue, just 20-plus musical numbers: solos, duets and several five-handers.
There are no characters in the usual theatrical sense. Women One, Two and Three and Men One and Two sing a series of slow, fast and faster songs linked by their focus on an aspect of parenting — or being parented.
The show is still a work in progress though likely frozen now for this run. After the programs were printed two numbers included in the list were dropped and the order was changed for some others.
The five performers are amusing and frequently ironic in ensemble numbers and a series of interlocutory Etudes. Each of the five has at least one standout moment. Charlie Clark’s agony over denied custody (“Dream Last Night”) is moving. Allen Kendall keeps his touch light, his tone pained without getting maudlin as he examines old photos (“Pictures”). The two men have a funny time contrasting their own active childhoods with couch-potato kids who “play baseball with their thumbs” (“I Had a Freakin’ Box”).
Jessica Hendy is by turns defiant and plaintive singing to a picture of her much-missed soldier husband (“Did You Know”). A. Beth Harris fulminates in rage over self-righteous Christian fifth-graders and teachers bullying her Muslim daughter (“This Is Still Our Country”). Kate Wilford has the show’s sunniest moments singing as she takes a swing at making chocolate chip cookies (“Make It From Scratch”) and discusses her son’s gayness (“What Took You So Long?”).
Oberacker and Taylor are familiar to Cincinnati audiences from Ace, produced at Cincinnati Playhouse a few seasons back. Their music for this show is witty and fetching but angular. Seems to me, though, that the score would profit from the addition of a simple, memorable, summary ballad that might still be whistling around in your memory when you get to the parking lot.
DON’T MAKE ME PULL THIS SHOW OVER continues at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati through May 17. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.