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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
CORAM BOY
at the Imperial Theater, NY

BLESSED BE THE LITTLE CHILDREN
By MARK BLANKENSHIP


Why fight Coram Boy? Sure, it has a dime-novel plot and more splashy effects than a weekend in Vegas, but this play with music could be the gold standard for mindless fun. Spectacular without being gaudy, it offers the type of imagination-firing entertainment that Broadway constantly promises bur rarely delivers with such elegant panache.

Paradoxically, this epic production-boasting over forty actors, a dozen sets, and a scene set underwater-is best defined by its reserve. Both director Melly Still and playwright Helen Edmundson, adapting Jamila Gavin's young adult novel, bring a light touch to wildly melodramatic elements. Showy images appear just long enough to be impressive. Plot devices move the action forward and then disappear before they grow tiresome. This economy makes the show a nimble, perfectly controlled adventure.

Consider the use of the Angel (Ivy Vahanian). She's a statue in a church where a group of 18th-century orphan boys are trained to sing in the choir. A mentally disturbed vagabond named Meshak (Brad Fleischer) imagines that he talks to her, and sometimes the play lets her respond. She doesn't talk often, though, so it's exciting to wonder when the living actor will break from her statue pose and speak. And once-only once-she flies in from the rafters, chastising Meshak while he and his father are up to dastardly business in a forest (they run a complicated scam involving rich, unwed mothers being duped into selling their newborns).

The Angel's sudden appearance-zipping down on visible wire and then snapping back out of sight-is thrilling, and the impact isn't diluted by overuse.

Of course, "overused" is how some might describe Coram Boy's plot points. Few will be surprised when one of the babies Meshak steals ends up in the very church choir we see at the beginning of the show. Any bets on whether the lad has a gift for singing that improbably helps him find his family? Or whether Meshak's wicked father (Bill Camp) tries to stop the happy reunion in a treacherous encounter at sea?

Accepting the outlandish story makes it easier to embrace the skill with which it's told. It's stirring, for instance, to hear the choir performances, sung by over twenty people that Still has tucked discreetly into the highest corners of the set. As they belt Handel's music-he's also a character here-the singers give grandeur to the action scenes. As they tear through their characters with rich, nuanced performances, the actors give complexity to their roles. And as it rolls through three hours of intrigue, Coram Boy gives ample reason to sit back and enjoy the ride.



 


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