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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Found: A New Musical

Or: Scraps of Glory

By Hunter Bell, Lee Overtree and Eli Bolin

It is customary for us to live our lives in isolation. We connect with family, friends, the occasional lover if we’re fortunate, but our thoughts are always trained on Number One. Yet, as Davy Rothbert found, one cold Chicago evening, there are thousands of characters floating around us everyday, with crisis and dreams all their own. They are e marked only by little bits of detritus, usually scraps of paper found in trash bins and back allies and windswept sidewalks.

It is from these bits of paper, sometimes hilarious sometimes heartbreaking, that Rothbert and his friends built FOUND Magazine, an enterprise dedicated to sharing these crumbs of stories with the general public. Bell, Overtree and Bolin have set out to dramatize and musicalize not only the enterprise’s unlikely journey but the treasures it picked up along the way. Their tale may be a little tweaked and embellished, but what storytellers worth their salt ever let truth get in the way of a good yarn?

Davy (Christopher Herr) is an average guy, a trifle cocky and touch insecure, looking for his purpose and in the possession one powerful imagination. On that fated evening, as he pulls out the message left under his car’s windshield wiper, he immediately conjures up Amber (Meghan McCandless) who left the rather pointed but poignant note for her boyfriend Mario, along with a Lounge Singer of Destiny! (Zach Sorrows) and, as the show progresses, opens himself to a whole host of specters imagined from the letters and lists. Inspired, Davy takes the note to his two best friends, his big, big hearted, and whip sharp semi-brother Mickey D (Jake Perlman) and the truly “awesome” Denise (Mallory Moser), who would be a dead ringer for Hermione Granger if Granger was an American ex-punk bartender.

Together, they accrue thousands of “found” notes and decide to step back from the daily grind and start showcasing their treasures, first around their neighborhood, then around Chicago and then around the country. As our trio grow closer together in their travels Davy and Denise begin to examine (she more than him, as is always that way in these stories) the connection what has made their friendship so deep. However, one fateful performance, Davy meets Kate (Evelyn Jacobi), the author of one of his favorite treasures (in which she bequeathed her skull to a childhood friend. Long story.) and the two immediately fall into a rapport, which stirs into an attraction, which blossoms into a full blown romance, to the dissatisfaction of Denise. The Yoko-ing begins.

Now, dear reader, you might be thinking, “So, Great-Big-Wee-Love-Triangle, that’s grand. Tell me then, how do found texts translate into song?” Surprisingly, moulded and scored by Bolin, the found texts sets heads to bop’n, feet to tap’n, hearts to sigh’n, and lungs to expanding and contracting at their full power to process the massive demand for laughter. The cast of luminaries (Those voices! Sweet-mother-of-pearl-I’ve-died-and-gone-to-heaven!) also gives fine throat to tunes that range from wistful (Denise’s “you don’t kiss me” and Davy’s and Kate’s ‘theme’) to operatic (“Patrick Lord of the Ladies”, headed by a long tongued and exuberant Will Carlyon) to a hilariously ironic country western ballad (“Denim and Diamonds”, featuring the power McCandless and the animations of Sorrow). In a rarely appropriate use of the medium, the actual texts are projected onto a screen above the action so you can follow along (nicely done Jeff Glass). The only place where given lyrics and given circumstances don’t match up is Davy’s Come to J*sus moment (presided over and carried through by a Gabby Hornig). Apart from that moment, songs, found texts and stories stream seamlessly around each other, each lending an iron band of authenticity along this fantastic tale that shows people in all their flaws and all their glory.

Of course, as with any production, it is the cast who makes each line and verse fly true. They literally leap from their stands, electrified with a love of their work and a desire to share all the surprises they have in store. Herr, who is a dab hand at these kind of likable but foolish everymen, performs with customary twinkle and joie de vivre, with an added finger or two of grace as he tries to make sense of his life. Mickey D., alas, is given not given quite as much of a careful spin by the writers. While he does have a host of wonderful quips both snarky and sincere, his two-cents on larger matters are riddled with Clichés. Thus, we must doff our hats to Perlman, who takes these tired old verbal horses, and speaks them with such conviction that they get up and canter that extra mile.

Moser, as before stated, is winning in the extreme. Denise is so generous, so spunky, and so touching that we are tempted to turn on Davy for not falling to his knees and swearing his love and fealty forever. Her honest frustration has, I’m sure, been felt by more than a few members of the audience who came off worse in the pursuit of affection.

In the Big-Wee hypotenuse's corner, Jacobi sings her way into Davy’s and our hearts (O that voice!) and swims through the role with ease. Kate is so charming and honest in her own affections and doubts that we forget that the odds of the Great-Big-Wee-Love-Triangle are stacked against her. However, not to give laurels, I must point out that in two years of watching her perform, I have never seen Jacobi play anything other than the Ingenue with an Edge. She plays it to a T and always finds the right Ingenue to Edge ratio but I hope one day to see her have the chance to step into the shoes of Velma Kelly or the Baker’s Wife, someone with grit.

As for the rest of the Ensemble, what can be said? They’re Golden. Each one hams it up to appropriate, never exaggerated, levels when needed and strives to show us that people (even self-proclaimed demigods, heck even publishers) are people too. From these worthies I must single out Zach Sorrow and Gabby FeBland for going above and beyond the call of duty in pouring their all out over and around the music stand for our pleasure, making sure to reining it in so that our spasms of laughter don’t kill us.

I wish there were better words to express my admiration for the cast and production team. For giving me the gift of paroxysm of mirth, an honest looks at the lives of others, and joy at hearing beautiful voices and elastic faces set to work on true stories of brilliance and idiocy. There is, to my mind, no felicity superior in the world than can be “found” in those words or those voices.

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