Once again, Capital Repertory Theatre is offering a world premiere, but “The Sparkley Clean Funeral Singers” is still “in development,” meaning the creators of this excellent production get audience feedback every night.
In fact, while the program lists the numbers in a particular order, that order was different on Thursday night. There’s tweaking going on.
A couple of lines capture the themes of the musical. At one point, Junie (Lori Fischer) laments, “I have no idea how to get the life I want,” a statement that seems true of her alcoholic sister, Lashley (Carter Calvert); the gambling and philandering preacher, Phil (Jesse Lenat); the sisters’ abandoned father, Lyle (Reathel Bean); and the people at whose funerals the women sing.
‘The Sparkley Clean Funeral Singers’
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: Through Aug. 4
HOW MUCH: $60-$20
MORE INFO: 445-7469, or www.capitalrep.org
The other line: “Love isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” a sentiment that becomes increasingly clear in a show — alternately funny and touching — that gains power in Act II.
But let me back up. Junie — unattached, but looking — is responsible for her father, whose Alzheimer’s disease is in its early stages. She’s also managing the family dry-cleaning business. Lashley returns home after a stint in rehab, but she has already lapsed.
Bible-thumping Pastor Phil is separated from his wife, and he likes to play the horses — not much of a role model. He offers the sisters a chance to revive their singing career at the funerals he conducts. As the women compose mini-biographies of the deceased, they discover more about themselves and their relationships.
Lori Fischer and Don Chaffer (who leads the four-member band) wrote the words and music. The country songs work in a number of ways. “Big Time Plans” and “Hello, Midge,” for example, advance the story; “Bindy, Take a Seat” and “All You Can Eat” are amusing obits; and “No Impulse Control” and “Building Up for Years” reveal the interior lives of the characters. In short, there’s a satisfying balance of songs, though Act I is slowed by “Death Is Everywhere.”
As for placement, the creators aptly end Act I with “Building Up for Years,” a powerful trio. I wish, however, they’d concluded the show with “Love’s What Holds You Now” and put the current closer, “To Build a Beautiful Life,” elsewhere.
The action occurs on a clever multi-purpose set, by David Esler, with subtle lighting changes by Mary Louise Geiger indicating various locales.
Both vocally and physically, Bean does a superb job of showing a man moving in and out of dementia. Lenat amusingly scores as a man of the cloth who can’t seem to stop tightening the bedsheet around his neck. Calvert does drunk convincingly, and when Lashley is sober, she’s tough as nails in the saddest way. Calvert’s voice? Whether harmonizing or doing a solo, she’s spot-on.
Fischer’s Junie is the one character who grows, both temperamentally and vocally, and Fischer carefully calibrates the development. When Fischer unleashed her power in “Lay Your Burden Down,” the audience erupted, appreciative of Fischer’s talent, but also cheering for Junie’s coming of age. These are four excellent singing actors, and director Martha Banta, who premiered Fischer’s “Barbara’s Blue Kitchen” at the Adirondack Theatre Festival years ago, has used them well.
While there’s a lot of competition from summer stock venues, Capital Repertory Theatre is certainly giving you a good bang for your buck. Take a look.