The story is an unusual one for a musical – but, then, Kander, with the late Fred Ebb, wrote musicals like Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Visit and The Scottsboro Boys, so is no stranger to challenging material. The story (which is original, not an adaptation from another source – unusual enough in this day and age) involves a teenage boy, Luke, who has returned to his Kansas home after almost a year away. Exactly what happened during that time gets revealed slowly, in a series of flashbacks, through the show, which is just about 2 hours long, with no intermission.
The story is interesting – and chilling – and, for the most part, the music moves things along well. The strongest pieces belong to the villain, Michael, who abducted Luke after they met in an on-line boat racing game. "Vinland" was thoroughly chilling and "You, If Anyone" is effective at adding complexity to the situation. There are some lighter moments. "Lawn," sung by Emily, who runs Wicker Witch of the West (a lawn and garden shop where Luke takes a job) is amusing, but "You Are the Marble," involving Luke’s mother’s church friend’s odd attempt at therapy is too silly to be anything but a distraction. "What’s the Point?" is also a bit silly, but does provide an opportunity for both a tap dance and a bit of insight into what his experience has done to Luke. I can forgive a lot when it involves tap dancing.
There are some excellent performances – as I expect at Signature. Donna Migliaccio, Christiane Noll, and Christopher Bloch were all well cast. Jake Winn was a vulnerable Luke. Sarah Litzsinger captured the quirky Emily very effectively. And Jeffry Denman was thoroughly chilling as Michael.
This isn’t a perfect show, particularly because a few aspects of Luke’s relationships are not really developed. But it held my attention. And the score was up to Kander’s usual high standards. A lot of the reason I support Signature Theatre is because of projects like this. It was worth braving the ice storm to see.