The Depot Theatre has opened their season with the world premiere of a brand new musical, Careless Love, written by Ryan G. Dunkin. It’s a down-home story of love gone wrong, then ultimately right. Set on the eve of Carol Anne’s wedding to Danny, her old flame Sean, recently released from prison, shows up. Throw in her daughter Charlie, born-again Carl, her brother Joe, her pal Maggie and two young friends, Bobby and Daryl, and you have the ingredients for a good story.
The musical numbers that help tell the story are the highlights of the production. The songs, mostly bluegrass style, are either traditional or written by Mr. Dunkin. The unusual aspect is that all these actors play musical instruments: in some cases three or four. The penultimate number, a powerhouse ballad by Mr. Ryan called “Better Man,” very well sung by Sean, features three guitars, lap steel, banjo, bass, fiddle and piano, all sounding great. Best of all, no mics!
Jonathan Wentz has created a homey living room set, (I especially like the plaid cushions), with a playing area outside the front door. On the other side is a back porch with room for both musicians and a rack of instruments. Whoever planned the instrument choreography did a splendid job, since a few times the actors switch instruments in mid-song.
Jean Brookman’s costumes are good, particularly Carol Ann’s dress and Maggie’s skirt and boots. Gary Burlew has done his usual fine job with the lighting. “Sweet Blue-eyed Darlin,” sung by Sean behind a scrim, is very effective.
This is a true ensemble cast, both dramatically and musically. Playwright Dunkin is very good as Danny, Carol Anne’s fiancé, while Music Director David Finch is just fine as Joe, especially in his Act II scene with Sean. As Bobby, Michael Castillejos is very funny. He does a terrific drunken dance with his bass and somehow manages to play holding his bass on his lap while collapsed on the couch.
Ross Taylor is an energetic Daryl and does a really nice job on “Cindy.” Michaela Champagne makes a perfect smart-mouthed teenager and is wonderfully self-dramatizing in “Bury Me beneath the Willows.” Brian Gunter is a strong actor and makes Carl’s song “Being Bad” thoroughly believable and very funny. He’s partnered by the excellent Melody Berger, who does a fascinating seduction with her fiddle. Their Act II number “Butter My Roll” is hilarious. Carrie McCrossen as Carol Anne and Luke Darnell as Sean have good chemistry together. Their Act II duet “Salty Dog” lets us see both what their relationship was and what it can now become.
Music Director David Finch has done a fine job. If I mentioned all the arrangements I like this would be too long, so I’ll only say the music is terrific, especially the vocal blend on “The Last Waltz.” As for Jason Marquette’s choreography it’s inventive, appropriate and particularly good on “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and “Cindy.” Director Allegra Libonati has done a nice job of pulling all the pieces together, which is difficult with a new show. The ending doesn’t feel quite right, but this is a work in progress.
I have to mention the trains, as this opening night set a record. There was one just before, one right after and three during. The actors had prepared a train song, but after the first very long freight just ignored the other two. By the way, stick around after the show and enjoy the cast singing and playing outdoors or in the lobby. Careless Love has a good story, plenty of humor and lots of terrific music. It’s a lively and up-beat opening for the Depot’s season. On a scale of one to five the Depot Theatre production of CARELESS LOVE gets four and five-eighths boxcars.