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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 4 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 40
Secondhand Lions is first-class all the way
Arts & Entertainment
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Secondhand Lions is first-class all the way

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

SECONDHAND LIONS: A NEW MUSICAL ADVENTURE
5TH AVENUE THEATRE
Through October 6


The 5th Avenue Theater has gotten into a positive rut: they premiere new musicals on their way to Broadway. Out of the 15 musicals that have debuted at this theater, eight of them have reached Broadway with two being nominated for the prestigious Tony Award for Best Musical. With the launching of the debut musical Secondhand Lions, it is very possible the 5th Avenue's wonderful track record will continue.

Based on the film of the same name, the new musical tells the story of a young boy named Walter, who is dumped into his elderly uncles' care by a flirtatious, financially ambitious mother. The only thing the boy knows about his relatives is that they have the reputation of being bitter recluses and that they were rumored at one time to be notorious thieves called the 'Wild Lion Boys.' While Uncle Garth seems to accept the situation as is, Uncle Hub is an utter curmudgeon and shows his short temper easily. To pass the long summer days, Garth tells Walter fantastical stories of the men's alleged past, involving sultans, harems, and great adventures in the French Foreign Legion. The incredible tales allow the boy to escape his tedious former life and provide the reality needed to bring both his uncles back to living their own.

BROADWAY VETERANS
The two men playing Uncle Garth (Gregg Edelman) and Uncle Hub (Mark Jacoby) are veterans of the Great White Way and they both bring their vast experience to their current roles. Hub's cranky attitude is offset just right by Garth's reluctant but softer demeanor, easily allowing the audience to see their brotherly connection. Both men have their opportunity to shine, as do their 'younger' selves (Jared Michael Brown and Kevin Earley, respectively). All four of these men lead a counterpoint with each other, doing great balance and wonderful vocals.

The two women in young Walter's (Johnny Rabe) life are his mother (Kendra Kassebaum) and the Harem Princess (Jenny Powers) he's told about by his uncles. Kassebaum plays the gold-digger role perfectly without going over the top into stereotype. Her voice is strong and clear and her persona easily comes through to make this mishap of a woman into a caring character. Powers' character is much more prevalent. Samira is a strong-willed individual who doesn't take guff and gives it only too easily. As a love interest for one of the Uncles, Samira immediately creates a mystery and intrigue only to have those characteristics demonstrated in spades. Both women have their own songs, allowing their voices to ring out and help give deposition to their characters.

The Sultan (Jason Danieley) is the arch-nemesis of the Wild Lion Boys. Danieley - another Broadway veteran with a long list of credits - plays this comic villain with a touch too much slapstick, but otherwise does a wonderful job. His voice is strong and his presence is easily noted. The schtick he performs is not the actor's design as much as the director's, but as is usual with pre-Broadway runs, the campiness gets toned down as the previews and workshops continue. The role is otherwise a great counterpoint to the explanation of the Uncles' pasts.

TWO GREAT CHILD ACTORS
There are two children in this show. One is Walter (Johnny Rabe), the boy taken to his uncles, and the other is Walter's friend, a know-it-all girl named Jane (Sophia Anne Caruso). Both do wonderful jobs without giving into childhood shenanigans and mugging the audience. Master Rabe is no stranger to the stage as he appeared in the 5th Avenue's production of A Christmas Story, and he brings his (limited) experience to this role with great ambition and talent. Miss Caruso's character is a good balance to the confused boy who has no experience with life.

The story adapted by Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood; Curtains), and his script flows easily and with interest. While not having seen the original film, the written story of the stage production was easily followed without too many gaps - a contradictory statement about phone usage was the only one found. The composer and lyricist for the show are by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner (First Date) respectively. Their songs are all good and fit into the show with content and style. All the music promotes the story along like the songs in a musical should. The only complaint was that the first act seemed heavy on 'big, rousing numbers' and by the end of Act One, I was ready for at least one ballad. I didn't have long to wait as they came easily in Act Two. If a complaint is warranted, it's just that a balance of musical types ideally should be mixed into the two acts.

Secondhand Lions is a very good production that incorporates good songs to promote the story. Another credit to the 5th Avenue's long list, this new musical could easily be seen heading to Broadway and getting proper notice. While still needing a little polish before landing in New York City, Secondhand Lions is definitely a First Class musical. The musical version of Secondhand Lions is based on the 2003 film by the same name, which starred Michael Caine and Robert Duvall as the cantankerous uncles, and young Walter was played by Haley Joel Osment.

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