On Wednesday evening, I saw yet another play by ACT’s Young Conservatory. This time a larger cast and music out the wazoo provided for a journey of song in Shed a Little Light: The Music of James Taylor. The show has no plot and is a revue of James Taylor material. That upset me a bit that there was nothing really tying the songs together. Okay, there was one weak attempt in the program to group songs together under certain titles like “the gathering” or “migration” but it definitely didn’t do it for me. In that sense, the show was fundamentally flawed from its conception. It might as well be a concert, a long one at that.
Another difficulty for me was the cast itself. There were some bright spots providing engaging songs of love, travel, and adventure but the ensemble as a whole faltered. Basically, the show was uneven and since the songs are distributed between cast member equally, the show became really inconsistent. In particular, there was some horrendously below-the-pitch singing especially on behalf of the boys. Darren Criss, a middle school classmate of mine, paved the way with some good acting and multi-talented musicianship skills despite his surroundings thouh. The girls sang on pitch most of the time but lacked any kind of conviction in their acting. They wanted to give a concert. One stand-out of the girl crowd voice-wise was Rachel Rubenstein, a senior at Lick-Wilmerding High School.
Technically, I was baffled by a show that seems to be designed by professionals. The microphone system in the Zeum Theatre is quite good. It can support the cast of 10, all on-stage at once. However, the mixing was mediocre at best. There was so much distortion in the voice. I really think that if ACT didn’t have so many shows, that the actors could sing over the band. There needed to be a decision on whether the show was supposed to sound amplified. Lighting was another baffling event with so much singing in darkness and mis-timed cues. I liked the gobos and the back lighting, though. Set design and panels: well done.
The band was a little understaffed, if you ask me. I think it had to do with not enough space in the “pit” that had been created. George Watsky looked exemplary on the drums despite what appeared to be a lack of freedom to create on the spot. Cellist Emily Gee filled the lower registers well but sometimes inaudibly (hence the need for backup). Pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi did a fine job playing piano man but failed to play another common role: conductor. A lot of the singing miscues like cut-offs such could be orchestrated by a bigger head nod or even the use of his hand.