'Free to Be' is enjoyable for 'You & Me'
Reviewed by Jeff Favre
In the treasure chest of Generation X nostalgia, one of the gems is "Free to Be ... You & Me," an album of songs and stories made by actress Marlo Thomas and several of her celebrity friends.
The album, and the book it inspired, remain popular sellers more than 30 years after their initial release.
Now the "Free to Be" world has grown with the premiere at the Powerhouse Theatre of the musical "Atalanta." Based on a Betty Miles short story written for the "Free to Be" album, this 70-minute musical will entertain young children and satisfy the parents who grew up listening to the original.
Writer Karen Hardcastle maintains the integrity of the source material and has added interesting layers to the characters' personalities and motivations. Composer David O, using only a piano, a clarinet and a cello, has composed a series of lush and complex songs. Director Dave Mowers and his versatile cast make the most of this musical, which teaches young people valuable lessons while it excites their imaginations.
The fairy tale concerns an 18-year-old princess named Atalanta (Elizabeth Tobias), whom hundreds of noblemen want to marry. Her father, the King (Guerin Barry), insists that she marry by her 19th birthday, which is the family tradition. But Atalanta wants to be an explorer. She tells her dreams to her best friend, Diana (Lori Scarlett), who wants to become a minstrel. They agree to follow their hearts.
So Atalanta makes a deal with her father. There will be a race, and the winner can have her hand in marriage. But Atalanta also will race. And if she wins, she may choose when, or if, she will marry.
Young John (Peter Musante), who studies the stars, decides to race to see if he can win and meet the princess. But there are several noblemen racing as well (all portrayed by Tom Beyer).
There are 17 songs in the one-act production, and several are quite clever, including a funny number, "The Game," in which Atalanta and her assistant, Imogene (Deb Snyder), wade through the letters and gifts from perspective grooms.
The highlight is "Race Day," a spirited and richly textured ensemble piece that builds with excitement as the contestants and the crowd musically surge toward the finish line.
Scarlett shines as Diana. Her melodic voice and comic timing move the story along swiftly. Tobias' natural acting style hits the mark with a young audience. And Beyer is a chameleon whose quick costume and character changes are each funnier than the previous one.
Mowers wisely refrains from having his cast talk down to the audience. And he keeps the slapstick to a minimum, instead relying on the strength of the material to provide the laughs.
The book and lyrics by Hardcastle and music by David O fit together seamlessly. The success of "Atalanta" may inspire more adaptations from "Free to be ... You & Me." It certainly is solid evidence the album is fodder for enjoyable new works.
- Jeff Favre is a freelance entertainment writer based in Los Angeles.