note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Carl A. Rossi
Aheh … Rocio Del Mar Vallés
Father … David L. Jiles, Jr.
Madame Bang Duk Omi … Vanessa J. Schukis
Storyteller/King … Ara Morton
Storyteller/Monk/Dance Captain … Austin Ku
Danny George; Lovely Hoffman; Eve Kagan;
Matthew Spano; Meredith Stypinski
Cello … John Hanifin
Piano … John Howrey
Percussion … Mick Lewander
Violin … Peter Stickel
Bass … Benjamin Reynolds
When it comes to a musical --- and a new one, at that --- whose opinion should you trust: one stony-faced individual or an audience who takes said musical to its heart? I refer to SUNFISH in its world premiere at The Stoneham Theatre, based on a Korean folktale about a daughter’s quest to restore sight to her widowed father’s eyes. I anticipated two hours of myth and magic via the mise-en-scene of its native land --- especially when Korea has recently claimed world-attention before being upstaged by Egypt --- but apart from a jointed ragdoll symbolizing the toddling daughter, some shadow puppetry, and Storytellers in olive-drab uniforms, SUNFISH is yet another New Musical, as if that genre has any claim to still being “New”: Hyeyoung Kim and Michael Cooper’s score is alternatively driven and introspective in the Sondheim manner (who else?) and for all its non-stop music is not very musical (nor is there any foreign flavor --- no, this is pure, hard Broadway aimed for the iPod crowd). Ms. Kim and Mr. Cooper know their New Disney, as well: their demure heroine is scored to blow the roof off with her belting, and she is balanced by a camp villainess calculated to steal the show (“she’s like Ursula,” said a woman to a girl at intermission); the male characters, for the most part, are sweet and boneless. The effect is further diluted by using an interracial cast --- Austin Ku, a handsome willow, is the sole Asian-American; when Mr. Ku’s Monk looks sideways and slyly smiles, his instant stylization highlights the others’ blandness. I kept hoping for SUNFISH to spring to life with a memorable tune or a rousing folk-dance or a stunning visual coup --- reasonable demands to make for a musical! --- but such demands are UN-reasonable to Sondheim wannabees: their cosmic navels claim their attention.
But the rest of the audience --- composed of the very old and the very young --- enjoyed SUNFISH; well, they heartily applauded the performers, anyway (may those youngers now plague their elders for more trips to….LIVE THEATRE). Most of the cast members are Boston-trained and already have the nimbleness, timing and vocal heft of seasoned pros (they must have been a joy to direct and choreograph) --- now, will they remain in the area?
Vanessa J. Schukis, a diva more powerful when subtle rather than unleashed, memorably trod the Stoneham boards as GYPSY’s Mazeppa, four seasons ago --- back then, I scribbled that Ms. Schukis would make an equally memorable Mama Rose. That role is still waiting --- and so am I (arms, folded; foot, tapping).