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Vivian: A Musical Ghost Story

a Musical
by Chase Peacock and Jessica DeMaria

COMPANY : Atlanta Lyric Theatre
VENUE : Theatre In The Square:Alley Stage [WEBSITE]
ID# 5145

SHOWING : October 11, 2017 - October 14, 2017



Dr. Cliff Ben­nett want­ed a change of scenery for him­self and his two daugh­ters after the death of his wife, so he moved his fam­i­ly to a beau­ti­ful fix­er upper in the coun­try­side of Cal­i­for­nia; but the changes they found were more than they bar­gained for.

VIVIAN is a 90 minute musi­cal ghost sto­ry that will leave you breathless.

Music Director Ali Lingenfelter
Chrissy Brittany Ellis
Cliff/Dad Travis Smith
James Austin Taylor
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An Unresolved Cord
by playgoer
Saturday, October 14, 2017
Let’s start with the set for "Vivian: A Ghost Story." It represents a house that has stood unoccupied for at most 15 years. Center stage we have a room with peeling wallpaper and a dining room table and three chairs, with a doorway upstage, just left of center. Stage right we have the bedroom of Vivian (Mabel Tyler), the younger daughter of Cliff (Travis Smith). Stage left we have the bedroom of elder daughter Chrissy (Brittany Ellis). Sheets cover much of the furniture at the start. While renovations are supposedly occurring during the course of the play, all we see are the sheets being removed and a shelf and a mirror being hung. Nevertheless, it’s all very functional, with splendid special effects, enhanced or created by Anna Eck’s atmospheric lighting design.

Bobby Johnston’s sound design balances voices and accompaniment beautifully, so everything can be heard clearly. The Alley Stage doesn’t allow the full stage to be seen by all members of the audience, though, so seated action at the table or at the beds isn’t always clearly visible to everyone. Julie Skrzypek’s blocking is static enough that actors are either clearly visible or entirely blocked for large portions of scenes.

The acting is first-rate across the board. Travis Smith plays a concerned father with empathy and power in equal amounts. Brittany Ellis’s bratty demeanor as Chrissy at the start transitions nicely into her romantic involvement with neighbor James (the sweetly engaging Austin Taylor). Mabel Tyler gets a real acting workout as an even-tempered child with night terrors who becomes possessed with spirits that dwell in the house.

Singing is also first-rate, with the exception of renditions of the initial phrases of "I Wanna Be Loved by You," which are supposedly being sung by a second-rate singer. What drove me wild is that the melody of this copyrighted tune has been altered to get rid of the low notes in the phrase "else but you." It sounds like the writers, actors, and musical director didn’t research the sheet music, relying instead on some range-restricted cover version of the song.

Otherwise, Alli Lingenfelter’s music direction makes sure all voices are strong and pure. The score by Chase Peacock and Jessica DeMaria leans heavily on folk/rock power ballads that aren’t immediately "catchy," but drive the story along and improve on subsequent hearing. The music sounds its best when multiple people are singing in sweet harmony. When the three family members are ranged across the stage to sing "The Tides," the wave of stereophonic sound is pure rapture. All duets dive into rapturous territory too, with glorious vocal harmonies abounding.

Not all parts of all songs work in a dramatic sense. Dad Cliff’s singing selections from a psychology textbook in "Diagnose" bookends the number, but seems a bit forced. James’ rendition of the house’s history in "The Story" uses "she" to refer both to a mother and her suicidal daughter, which can be confusing.

This same sort of confusion harms the plot. There’s some equivalent of a spectral umbilical cord connecting that dead mother and daughter with Cliff’s two daughters, and it’s not always clear which of the dead spirits is directing Vivian’s actions. Nothing is resolved, with the show ending abruptly with an ominous vignette. There’s also a lack of clarity in the character of Chrissy. She’s supposedly upset at moving and losing a boyfriend, but falls right into a relationship with James. She sees a spectral face that terrifies her at the moment, but which seems to be immediately forgotten, to judge by her subsequent behavior.

"Vivian: A Ghost Story" has many promising elements, but its love subplot isn’t well integrated into the story, and some of the storytelling seems to be rushed. There are jarring, scary moments, but the show does not build up to a sense of all-encompassing dread that its ending appears to be aiming for. It’s an intimate, four-character, one-act show that seems to cry out for expansion. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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