You might have large expectations for “Late in the Evening,” a MusicalFare production based on the works of Paul Simon, if you are a fan of Simon the musician and songwriter. And MusicalFare, with its cozy close proximity seating to the stage is a venue that holds even more promise.
. . .an absolute banquet for the eyes and ears. . .
And you might be justified. Billed as a world premiere play pulled together from music of, arguably, one of America’s greatest songwriters of the modern era — the initial draw is there. The music, that is, and how a catalog of songs spanning decades can be fit to a story of some unified account. And even if you don’t like Paul Simon, the upside, you know at least some of his tunes.
Expect to be introduced to some rarely heard songs from Simon’s catalog, some memorable gems, and some critically acclaimed hits. Expect the rhythms of a devout and gifted band, the guitar and gravelly haunting voice of the main character, Duncan, sung by the accomplished and talented local musician, Zak Ward. Expect some interpretive choreography by an experienced troupe, highlighted by lighting that is, at times, austere and vibrant to the ever-changing moods of the music. Expect a talented cast committed to this production and their craft.
Just don’t expect a story to carry you along. Michael Walline, who directs, choreographs, and by circumstance was tapped late in the creative process to craft the play’s premise, had his work cut out for him. How to put one of popular music’s most inventive wordsmith’s to a singular narrative flow. Walline sets the story in the main character of Duncan, a homeless veteran who is taken on a journey through the back story of his life by a young boy. Using pictures that the audience never sees, hung about the set, the boy (Noah Bielecki) gives them to the down and out Duncan, which prompts the songs into being.
The account of Duncan’s life, however, is never really apparent. And the songs, at times, seem misplaced in trying to grab any narrative flow.
At one point, midway through the first set, we’re presented with Duncan recalling apparently being drafted into the service with – oddly — the song “You Can Call Me Al,” which seems like trying to tie together a manuscript with a dried up rubber band – a stretch too far, and the thing snaps and scatters. There’s more than one instance where this happens.
To be fair, the play, like most great music, is open to interpretation – purposefully so, on both accounts. And a truly engaging performance, in this case by Dudney Joseph, Jr. as Al, softens the sting just a bit.
In Act Two, we’re taken on a piecemeal journey of Duncan through relationships with the women in his life good, bad, and indifferent. These sequences are highlighted by truly stellar duets between Ward and Emily Prucha in “You’re The One” and Ward with Dominique Kempf in “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”. These and several other tunes through Act Two seem to bring a more narrative flow to the piece. Even if one or two break the flow, there’s more of a foothold helped along by even more stylized choreography and ambiance. But is it enough.
Essentially, if you see MusicalFare’s Late in the Evening, you can expect an absolute banquet for the eyes and ears. There are some beautifully rendered scenes, creative and at times surprising song renderings. More than that, the production boasts stunning scenic and transitional moments of sound and light by designer Chris Cavanagh.
You can also expect the promise of the expected — a vast array of Paul Simon songs that can be often about spirituality, longing, pain, joy, and humor. It’s the nature of the beast for viewers to want to put such a presentation into a narrative context, after all, there’s a story here, somewhere, is the implied promise. Overall, to borrow a line from a Simon tune: it just don’t work out that way.
Whether there’s too much room left open to interpretation may not even matter, because you can decide to sit back and relax and enjoy the music, the affect of each, on its own, and the songs as they come at you, one at a time, for what they are individually – masterful interpretations.
Running Time: 2 Hours with a 15-minute intermission.
Late in the Evening: The World According to Paul Simon is currently running through May 26, 2019 and is presented at MusicalFare Theatre. For more information, click here.