I’m still laughing. I’m still amazed at the blast of unabashed young talent that makes the world premiere of PANORAMANIA so refreshing. So exciting. So musical. So merry and so smart.
Who would have thought that the life of an unknown artist, an artist from the mid 19th century that many people have never heard of with a name that is difficult to pronounce – John Banvard (bon-verd) whose fifteen minutes of international fame came from his “Grand Moving Panorama of the Mississippi” – a very long (reputed to be three miles) painting that with the help of a wooden crank just kept rollin’ along – a precursor of moving pictures – a new fangled idea that his son John Jr. pursued – could be so entertaining?
Well, David Jackson who wrote the amazing and incredibly hysterical and heartfelt book. And Jacob Sexton who has masterly directed this zany opus are the wunderkind creators of this enlightening production that seriously questions what the artists’ purpose in life is and can he possibly make a living with his art. And what is more important – art or family?
In addition we have the ear catching melodies and clever lyrics by PartyFolk (the band) our two musical narrators as such – Leah Latella and Noah Chase with their banjos, ukes, guitars and mandolins making toe tapping and foot stomping songs that make for a most enjoyable time – “Yes I Can”, “Here We Go”, “Mine Is Longer” and the title song are standouts.
The other members of the band are behind a large sheet that spans the stage with the intended use of showing projections by Closing Eye Studios. At the performance I attended “technical difficulties” made this impossible. There were no projections. With all due respect to Closing Eye Studious they weren’t missed – enabling all the manic energy and staging to take place before “a blank canvas” – having the audience supply with their own imagination what we were to see.
Each short scene that travels back and forth in time is so wondrous and set up perfectly that the missing images, I think, might just complicate things unnecessarily.
What’s most important is that John Banvard is portrayed by an exciting new talent – R. J. Vaillancourt who has a unique style and great comic timing and enough energy to run a steamship. He’s amiable. He’s goofy. He’s trying to save his theatre from being taken over from P.T. Barnum (a spry Brendan McDonough) with the help of his business partner William Lilliendahl (Brandon Zelman – another great discovery) who has kept John afloat for many years enabling him to paint and pursue his dreams and to sire seven children with his wife Elizabeth (Erica Hernandez).
John Jr. (Blake Sugarman) Edith (Sarah Hegarty) Ada (Kabby Borders) Gertrude (Emily Rose Prats) Elizabeth (Leah Latella) Daniel (Noah Chase) and Eugene Banvard (Tyler Gattoni – a young Hugh Grant) have individual personalities that are immediately striking – and they get to play many other characters – including Queen Victoria, Dickens, and Henry David Thoreau with extraordinary aplomb.
Keeping up such a manic Marx Brothers pace is almost impossible and Act II momentarily looses its focus but all in all PANORAMANIA is wonderful work of art.
At the New Ohio Theatre. A production of (Breathing Time Machine) as part of FringeNYC.
Tags: No Comments