Los Angeles / Regional Theater Review: LOCH NESS, A NEW MUSICAL (Chance Theater in Anaheim)

by Kevin Lax on February 23, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

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NEW MUSICAL IN RIGHT DIRECTION, BUT NEEDS TO UNLOCH MORE

LochNessphoto01Fostered completely under the roof of the Chance from conception to premiere, Loch Ness is a new musical developed specifically for the space and cast at the Anaheim theater, a rare trajectory observed in the theater world these days. With lyrics/book by A.D. Penedo and music/book by Marshall Pailet, who also takes the directing helm, Loch Ness transports us to the Scottish highlands where mysticism and adventure meet in a delightful nautical voyage brimming with energy and memorable characters. While envisaged for younger spectators, Loch Ness reaches a broader audience with its skillfully crafted humor and tone, lightly reminiscent of a Pixar film.

LochNessphoto04Set in the early 1990s in and around the area of Loch Ness, Scotland, the story focuses on the unusual pairing of a young, rebellious Scottish girl, Haley Westbrook, (Julia Cassandra Smith) and the enigmatic, but affable, Nessie (Katie Brown). Through a series of odd and whimsical escapades, the two find themselves amid a blossoming friendship that serves as a source of inspiration and courage for them to confront their deepest fears and ultimately resolve their troubles. With an array of compelling and congenial characters that bring depth, richness, and humor to the plot, Loch Ness is a tightly woven story that showcases few, if any, flaws, making it a veritable “home run” so to speak, in terms of book. Two concerns worth mentioning are the character of Haley, whose youthful yen is at times a bit wearying (and might benefit from a modest scaling back), and the vague use of a balladeer, however it supports the plot. Acting is stellar across the board, with special nods to Julia Cassandra Smith as Haley, Jackson Tobiska as Dr. Thomas Westbrook, and Corky Loupe as The Oiler.

LochNessphoto06Music and lyrics are strong and feature several fine moments. Highlights include the touching lyrics and melodic lines of the emotionally charged “You Don’t Love Me Now,” and the stirring Act I closer “Comes the Moment.” The underscore incorporates a mild sea-faring sensibility, striking an appropriate balance that supports the story but isn’t distracting, and successfully reinforces the dramatic and emotional needs of the musical. Music director Mark Sonnenblick admirably strings together a tight ensemble performance (the score is pre-recorded), with “The Answer Lies Near” and “Then” being some of the highpoints. The orchestration, by Ryan O’Connell, hits some nice notes, but overall falls a little flat in terms of depth and quality of sound, leaving the music feeling a little “undercooked” and thin at times, particularly “Hold On To You” and “Finale.”

LochNessphoto03Chance Theater presents excellent work in all elements of staging. The lighting design by Jonathan Daroca is simple but effective, enhancing the story along the way. Sound Designer Ryan Bodkin does a nice job of establishing the mood and making sure all of the dialogue and lyrics are perceptible. Puppet and set design by Fred Kinney and Megan Hill is terrific, using a creative and industrious approach towards making Nessie come to life. The major absence is the presence of dance numbers, with the only discernible one being “Monster Scat,” found at the beginning of Act II.

Stepping on board for this world premiere was an enjoyable treat and certainly one of the better musicals to hit Southern California regional theater in some time. The story delivers where it counts and the Chance Theater brings a professional and special performance aspect to the show. Loch Ness holds much promise for the future and it will be of great interest to see how things unfold from here.

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photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio

LochNessphoto05Loch Ness, A New Musical
Chance Theater
5522 E. La Palma Ave in Anaheim
Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2
Wed at 8 (Feb 11 only)
ends on March 1, 2015
for tickets, call 714.777.3033
or visit www.ChanceTheater.com

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