CCM Creates a “Fantastick” Review in ‘There Were You’

Review by Teddy Gumbleton of There Were You: CCM Musical Theatre

For its first show of the 2016-2017 season, University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music’s Musical Theatre Department offers a new revue There Were You, which features the music of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt and is conceived and directed by Aubrey Berg. While perhaps lesser known than, say, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jones and Schmidt are no less worthy of admiration. Their most famous musical, The Fantasticks, premiered Off-Broadway in 1960 and ran for 42 years, making it the world’s longest-running musical.  There Were You showcases pieces from The Fantasticks but also some of Jones and Schmidt’s lesser known efforts.

As a rule, I tend to be very cautious when it comes to musical theatre revues. I find it defeats the point of the art form. An effective musical theatre song tells a specific story, and having them back to back, out of context, undercuts the power of the original piece. However, Berg mostly succeeds at transcending these issues by grouping his musical selections by themes such as Love, Disillusionment and Experience. Berg’s slick and witty direction gives each number the character that it needs and he deftly shapes the arch of each thematic section. The choreography by Katie Johannigman punctuates Berg’s direction quite nicely.

However, it is Steven Goers’ glorious work as Music Director which makes There Were You shine brightly. His arrangements of Jones and Schmidt’s warm and homey music soar. Goers has exquisitely arranged the music for the six cast members, brilliantly transforming traditional solos such as “Try to Remember” from The Fantasticks into ensemble numbers. Goers has also crafted the score to be played on two pianos, which he and fellow pianist Luke Flood perform with the gusto of a full orchestra.  Hearing Jones and Schmidt’s music performed so superbly alone makes There Were You a commendable night of theatre.

The cast of 6, featuring three women, Aria Braswell, Michelle Coben, and Emily Celeste Fink and three men, Karl Amundson, Stavros Koumbaros, and Gabe Wrobel, are uniformly excellent. Each performer sings like a dream, navigating the lush harmonies and infusing each song with the necessary depth and wit. Together they work flawlessly as an ensemble, infusing the rich music with tremendous character.

The physical production of There Were You is spare and highly effective. Thomas C. Umfried’s lovely set design of raised rounded platforms and a nighttime backdrop was the perfect canvas for the show. The lighting design by Parker Conzone skillfully evokes youthful hope of Act 1 and the melancholy wisdom of Act 2.

All in all, There Were You is a very charming evening. In particular, it would be a treat for musical theatre fans who are interested in exploring lesser known works by a very gifted duo. Performances run through Sunday, Oct. 9 at the Cohen Family Studio Theatre on UC’s campus.