New Helvetia Theatre ends its three-weekend run of Michael John Lachiusa’s off-Broadway show “Little Fish” this weekend. While Lachiusa is known for two Broadway shows, "Marie Christine" and "The Wild Party," he has written several smaller-scale off-Broadway shows. Most of these have a reputation of being very serious. “Little Fish” is one of his lighter works and was suggested from the short stories of Deborah Eisenburg.
“Little Fish” is New York City-centric. It is the setting of the play, and some of the interactions of the characters can be described as very “New York.” The play itself is part of a genre of musicals, many by Lachiusa, that are specifically written for off-Broadway with a more contemporary style. Lachiusa is also known for an ongoing feud in print with the creators of more traditional Broadway musicals. Nevertheless, “Little Fish” deals with universal themes of the human condition and relationships.
Charlotte, a writer living in New York City, is the center of the play. Her decision to stop smoking results in a clear look at herself and her relationships. She comes to realizes that she has low self-esteem and that her past and present relationships don’t help. This is especially true of Charlotte’s relationship with Robert in Buffalo, her first live-together relationship. He has no difficulty putting her down, telling her how untalented, dumb and uninteresting she is.
Charlotte’s way of dealing with Robert is to run off to New York City, where, moving in with a wild roommate, Cinder, she first takes up smoking. Being off cigarettes, Charlotte also discovers that running away is her usual reaction to issues she doesn’t want to deal with.
Maggie Hollinbeck is perfectly cast as Charlotte. She plays Charlotte with a vulnerability that makes her seem like she is going to break. The role has similarities to that of “The Wife” that she did such a great performance of at Graham-A-Rama’s staged concert of “In Trousers.” Yet Charlotte continues to find her strength. It is always a pleasure to hear Hollinbeck sing, and this is no exception.
Robert is performed by Craig Howard. Howard has a wonderful voice, and his Robert puts down Charlotte with such relish that some of the audience hissed at him. Howard teaches theater arts at Sheldon High School, where he has been nominated for and won numerous Elly Awards for his work. He has also has won or been nominated for Elly Awards for his performances in diverse musical theater productions on several regional stages.
Cinder the crazy roommate is performed by well-known Sacramento actor Nanci Zoppi. This is her fourth production at New Helvetia, along with several shows on other stages including Cosmopolitan Cabaret and B Street Theatre. Zoppi displays both her great singing and comic talent here.
Rosemary Babich (“They’re Playing Our Song”), Danielle Hansen (“In Trousers In Concert”), Steve Minow (“The Drowsy Chaperone”), Andrew J. Perez (“Junie B. Jones, Jingle Bells Batman Smells) and Tristan Rumery (“tick…tick…BOOM!”) are great as the friends who surround Charlotte.
While there is dialogue in the show, much of the story is told through the music. There are over two dozen songs in “Little Fish,” allowing each performer to show off their musical skills, whether as a solo, duet or singing with the whole company.
The music is so central to the show that the single set designed by Pat Farragher and Tim Mickiewicz incorporates the band as part of the set. The set also incorporates lots of storage for the props and is mostly representative of the “Y” where Charlotte swims and runs.
The band consists of Graham Sobelman on keyboard and conducting, Erik Daniels on keyboard, Kellen Garcia on bass, Ryan Harbert and James Lohman rotating on reeds and Jim Nakayama on percussion. There is a strong Graham-A-Rama influence here. It is, in some ways, as enjoyable to watch the band perform as it is to watch the actors. Speaking with Garcia after the show, he confirmed that the band members really enjoy performing the score.
New Helvetia artistic director Connor Mickiewicz directs, demonstrating his usual flare for this style of musical. Working with choreographer Michael Jenkison, the production numbers work well for both their visual impact and the balance of the singers’ voices.
Mickiewicz and New Helvetia are drawn to musicals that appeal to a younger audience. “Little Fish” is certainly one of those shows, but it is appealing to much wider audience. This show has a definite date-night feel to it, but not just a young-romantic-couple date-night feel. There is also the feel of friends, family, coworkers and longtime couples on a theater date night.
“Little Fish” enters its third and final weekend run Wednesday night. Make a date for an entertaining couple of hours.
“Little Fish” New Helvetia Theatre Through October 29, 2011
More info and tickets