Bob Goepfert Reviews Adirondack Theatre Festival's "Calling All Kates"

Jun 18, 2019

GLENS FALLS – The premise of the musical “Calling All Kates” is so improbable it has to be true. And it is. The world-premiere musical being presented by Adirondack Theatre Festival in Glens Falls is based on a true story.

A young man’s fiancée jilts him just before the wedding and he is stuck with a non-refundable extra ticket for an around the world vacation. He finds a stranger with the same name as his ex-fiancée to agree to be his traveling companion. The only demand Marc places on the new Kate is they remain emotionally and physically uninvolved.

That’s the end of improbable.  Because this is musical theater, the audience immediately knows not to believe a vow of non-involvement will be upheld.  “Calling All Kates” is that kind of musical. It’s as pleasant and as engaging as it is predictable and familiar.

It’s a show about two quirky and slightly damaged loners who meet and learn how to care about another person and heal themselves in the process.  Add a pleasant musical score that is no more challenging than the plot and you have two hours of light, enjoyable entertainment.   

Joshua Israel, as Marc, overcomes a shaky beginning that shows him as more of an irritating jerk than as a compulsive nerd.  His acting skills and a flair for comedy eventually redeem the character, but as written it’s impossible to call him charming.

On the other hand, Zoe Jensen is a constant delight as Kate.  In another era, the young woman, who is even uncertain about her actual age, would be called a kook.  Jensen makes her an endearing, energetic presence.  Her scene experiencing a caffeine high at an espresso tasting session is a comic highlight of the show.

Thanks to those strong performances you are happy that Marc and Kate 2 find each other.  However, the book by Emily Goodson, fails to make it urgent that they do so.   Each character is deserving of happiness, but because the work focuses on their eccentricities rather than their emotional needs, you get the feeling each might be just as happy alone.

Indeed, the romance in “Calling All Kates” is akin to watching those reality dating shows on television. You know the type.  It’s where a fun date is a reason
to declare love and suggest a lifetime commitment.  The relationships lack the depth to make us really care.

This is not all the fault of Goodson.  Like so many contemporary musicals the songs sometimes act as masks.  They tell you what the character is thinking, not what they are feeling.   That’s true with Jeremy Schonfeld’s score. The songs are easy to enjoy, but his lyrics usually fail to probe the emotions.   The show would be helped considerably with a couple of emotional love songs that reveal the vulnerable nature of each character.

Chad Rabinovitz directs the play with efficiency, if not cleverness.   He tells the story in a clear way, but misses the potential to make a small show feel larger.  Wasted is the three person ensemble, who repeat the same characters in every scene they are in.  

Thanks to an impressive stage presence, David Rowen overcomes the script limitations to make his mark as the Narrator.  However, Hanna Berggren and Mac Myles have little to do as the flight attendants.  One suggestion is because the show travels the world, change the airlines on the various flights and give the pair a chance to play a variety of comic attendants.   Even incorporate the three more into the show as tourist types to bring size to the production.

The tech has the same issues.  Shane Cinal’s cloud filled stage immediately sets the light-hearted comic style of the play, but it shrinks the performance space.  Jeffrey Small’s lighting is especially effective in the cave scene, emphasizing the romance of the moment. But with an exception or two, the play seems to take place at the same time, every day.

The three piece band under the musical direction of Mark Christine is professional, pleasing and unobtrusive.   The same can be said about the entire production of “Calling All Kates."

“Calling All Kates,” through June 22.  Produced by Adirondack Theatre Festival at the Charles Wood Theatre, Glens Falls.  For tickets and complete schedule 518-480-4878, atfestival.org

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

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