Los Angeles Theater Review: THE TROUBLE WITH WORDS (Coeurage Theatre Company)

by Tony Frankel on July 1, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

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NO TROUBLE HERE

I vividly remember the first time I heard William Finn’s  March of the Falsettos, Adam Guettel’s  Floyd Collins, Michael John LaChiusa’s  The Wild Party, and Jason Robert Brown’s  Parade. Already inured to Loesser and Sondheim, it was thrilling to hear from these brand new composer/lyricists: they were immediately recognizable as those who respected their forbearers’ work yet created a wholly new style of composition for the stage. These moments of discovery are rare, but there is no denying when they occur; songsmiths such as these demand your attention with inventiveness, sophistication, accessibility and, above all, the ability to use songs as a way to express and heighten the complexities of the human condition. (Strangely enough, the subsequent music and lyrics of the aforementioned composer/lyricists have been wildly inconsistent – as opposed to Sondheim and Loesser.)

THE TROUBLE WITH WORDS (The Coeurage Theatre Company at Actors Circle Theatre)

This leads to Gregory Nabours and his new work entitled The Trouble With Words, presented by Coeurage Theatre Company. There is a 90-minute version playing at Actor’s Circle Theatre, but I caught the 60-minute version at the 2011 Hollywood Fringe Festival, which may have inadvertently heightened my enthusiasm for this striking young composer (the show won Best Musical at the Fringe); for although Mr. Nabours is one of the most exciting songwriters to come along in a very, very long time, his wonderful, character-driven numbers threaten to become commonplace lest he immediately turn to writing songs for book musicals. Subtitled “A New Song Cycle,” The Trouble With Words does indeed elevate Cabaret-style theatre to new heights (as Maltby and Shire did with Closer Than Ever), but I am so captivated with Mr. Nabours’ world premiere that I am already chomping at the bit for him to join a seasoned librettist and hurl American Musical Theatre into the future.

Tony Frankel Stage and Cinema review Coeurage Theatre

The theme in this current show is how words get in the way of communication and connection. Mr. Nabours not only writes lyrics that are poetic, economical, funny and smart, but his music experiments with harmony and fugue. I assume that he is also the brilliant orchestrator; his use of reeds, cello, violin and xylophone serve to blur the line between chamber music and orchestra.

THE TROUBLE WITH WORDS (The Coeurage Theatre Company at Actors Circle Theatre)

The performers (Coeurage Theatre Company members Julianne Donelle, Aimee Karlin, Chris Roque, and Ryan Wagner and guest artists Josh Eddy and Sarah Phillips) are not only unique personalities, but strong talents, deftly handling Mr. Nabours complex and dissonant harmonies. Patrick Pearson’s direction is focused and fluid – he is to be commended for avoiding the manic direction that normally accompanies “revues,” allowing the songs to rightfully be the star.

Tony Frankel Stage and Cinema review Coeurage Theatre

Certainly, Mr. Nabours deserves praise of the highest order as he truly is the most promising songwriter to come down the pike since…hell, since I don’t know when – but my fear is that he may get swallowed by the current state of theatre as a commercial commodity. I beg him to hold to his vision and start stretching his talent even further.

THE TROUBLE WITH WORDS (The Coeurage Theatre Company at Actors Circle Theatre)

Mr. Nabours has the capability to create works that will not only endure, but inspire his contemporaries to look beyond the drivel which haunts the musical theatre scene (this includes the recitative/rock of Rent to the ubiquitous shows that celebrate rap and hip-hop over substance). I hope it’s not too much pressure when I call him a beacon of light along the rocky and foggy shores of the theatre.

Tony Frankel Stage and Cinema review Coeurage Theatre

photos by Kevin McShane

The Trouble With Words
Coeurage Theatre Company in West Hollywood
scheduled to end on August 27, 2011
RETURN ENGAGEMENT plays March 2-31, 2013 at the Lost Studio
for tickets, call (323) 944-2165 or visit http://www.coeurage.org/

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