Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Gig"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark

"The Gig"

by Douglas J. Cohen
Based on the motion picture by Frank D. Gilroy
Directed & Choreographed by Stewart F. Lane
Musical Direction by Steven Bergman

Scenic Design by Robert M. Russo
Lighting Design by Russ Swift
Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley
Production Stage Manager Cathie Regan
Production Manager Skip Curtiss
Assistant to the director Bonnie Comley

Marty (trombone)................Chip Phillips
Jack (piano)...............Peter Edmund Haydu
Aaron (reeds)................Brian De Lorenzo
Gil (trumpet)..................Peter A. Carey
Arthur (drums)..............Benjamin DiScipio
Georgie (bass)/Vince Amati.......Paul Farwell
Marshall Wilson(bass)..........Brian Robinson
Abe Mitgang........................John Davin
Lucy...........................Elizabeth Asti
Donna/ Miss Riki Valentine...Kathy St. George

Remember jazz? The musical idiom of Lewis Armstrong & Miles Davis? The idiom of Cole Porter & Duke Ellington, John Coltrane & Frank Sinatra? Music with more than two chords played without drum-machines, electrified instruments, synthesizers or over-dubs by people who actually listen to one another and play together? Douglas J. Cohen's musical "The Gig" is about jazz.

For that reason, most of the action is moved by songs, and characters introduce themselves and illustrate their emotions by singing. The bare bones outline follows Frank D. Gilroy's movie script, about six men who have nothing whatever in common save that, for twelve years they've spent every Wednesday night contentedly playing music with one another. Their leader (Chip Phillips) however, feeling they can never know how good they really are without getting paid, volunteers his friends for a two-week gig at a Catskills resort four-hours' drive from the city. It is August, 1975, and both the resort and these guys' favorite kind of music attract only ageing, dwindling crowds. For everyone here, dreams meet reality, and only their love of the music makes that conflict bearable. But if the band can play behind a come-back appearance by Miss Riki Valentine (Kathy St. George) on their final week-end ... who knows?

Robert M. Russo's set introduces the band in a two-story array of their real-job cubbyholes: The trombonist (Phillips) sells used cars, the pianist (Peter Edmund Haydu) sells stocks, the trumpet (Peter A. Carey) sells real estate; on reeds is a music-teacher (Brian De Lorenzo), on drums a dentist (Benjamin DiScipio), and the bassist (Paul Farwell) is a delicatessen butcher --- but when they mime their instruments a-capella, the refrain of their song is "Farewell Mere Existence, Hello Jazz!"

For each individual, as well as for the group, there is a journey of self-discovery. As a first hurdle, Georgie the bassist faces not a gig but surgery --- and the replacement (Brian Robinson) is Black and a full-time professional only slowly and grudgingly comfortable with older amateurs. Then there's John Davin's resort-owner, whose promises are less reliable than those of the used-car salesman. What he's paying them for isn't their "BIFF-BAM-BANG!" book, but dance-tunes --- two-steps, fox-trots, waltzes, and maybe a hora to get the crowd's blood circulating again. Not personally expressive stuff from a group envious of their bassist's tour with "Benny Goodman".

Two of them have flings with waitresses (Elizabeth Asti & Kathy St. George) --- one married but restless, the other an inexperienced virgin tied to his ageing mother's apron strings ("You have such beautiful ... teeth!"); some remember parents sniffing at music with "Time to Put The Toys Away" or make "Choices" or realize "I Can't Live Without Your Horn". The cameraderie stitching the group together is as volatile and fragile as that uniting the cast of a play --- just as impossible, just as wonderful.

Act II is the acid-test: "Riki Is Back in Town!" Miss Riki Valentine and her rug-wearing manager Vince Amati (St. George & Farwell) have plans and demands of their own: new music in unreadable arrangements that "You'll have to transpose a step down since I'm a little hoarse today." As she and the guys stumble through the carnage, it's obvious that only Kathy St. George could sing so deliberately, disastrously badly for a change, or flay her accompanists with such ferocity.

The show ends with everyone --- including, perhaps some in the audience --- a little more self-aware, half-way home, alone together at the side of the road playing one last song for their absent bassist George --- at last, their own tune: "BIFF-BAM-BANG!" Musical Director Steven Bergman and the band back-stage obviously love jazz, almost as much as I do.

Remember jazz?


"The Gig" (18 October- 16 November)
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON, MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide