Back in 2010 when I reviewed a small, sung-through musical at the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, Angel Velasco was my favorite part. Today, in a small, sung-through musical—this time at Pfamily Arts—he’s one-fourth of a talented quartet that redefines the phrase “giving it their all.”
Edges, a song cycle with more than a passing similarity to Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World, is the earliest work of the songwriting team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The duo is now known more for their scores to Broadway’s A Christmas Story: The Musical (for which they received a Tony nomination), Off-Broadway’s Dogfight (coming to WaterTower Theatre in July), and the songs of Hit List, the fictional musical in the NBC series Smash (which recently enjoyed a sold-out concert version at the Manhattan cabaret venue 54 Below).
Before all that however, and even before they became the youngest winners of the Jonathan Larson Award for songwriting, the team composed Edges while they were students at the University of Michigan. Their youthful exuberance and the apparent shallowness of the Facebook generation is evident in the show’s overall attitude, but there is surprising depth and range of emotion to be found too.
With no concrete plot, Edges relies on its small cast to quickly sketch out characters and keep audiences engaged throughout the 20 unrelated songs, which range from plaintive ballads to feisty snarkfests. Under the direction of Mark Mullino, Velasco, Calvin Scott Roberts, Nikki McDonald, and Brett Warner Hurt each carry their weight, imbuing their varied characters with quirks and flaws in remarkably short time.
Dallas/Fort Worth newcomer Hurt is granted the sassiest numbers, switching from a creatively vengeful ex to a woman who’s blind to the true orientation of the man of her dreams. She gets wiggly as a pre-teen, lamenting her older sister’s distancing journey to adulthood, and nails a manic promise to be “Perfect” for the significant other who’s trying to drop her.
Roberts seems saddled with mostly sad songs, but he wrings enough empathy from them so that they soar rather than sink. His best number, “Dispensable,” is a raw reaction to an unexpected break-up letter.
McDonald, fresh off her steamy turn as Mallory/Avril in Theatre Three’s City of Angels, showcases more than just her pout as a commitment-phobic golden girl who’s still searching for not just the perfect man, but the man who’s perfect for her. That song, when paired with the tortured “Lying There,” hint that McDonald would make a dynamite Cathy Hyatt in Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years (perhaps with John Campione as Jamie Wellerstein? Somebody please make this happen).
Velasco, excellent in his beautiful solo numbers, is also part of the show’s funniest duets. “Better,” a bitchy, bouncy anthem sung with McDonald at a high school reunion, is only topped by “Pretty Sweet Day,” a bro-tastic ode with Roberts to life’s simple pleasures.
As evidenced by the thin crowd on opening night, audiences know that Pfamily Arts can be hit or miss. When it hits, though, it hits big, and Edges is definitely a hit.
Photo by Daniel Fermaint