Blue Roses…Blue roses. Whisper the words aloud and imagine what those roses might look like. Fragile, haunting, tragic, illusory? When lyricist Mimi Turque plucked the words out of Tennessee William’s drama “The Glass Menagerie” to form the title of the adaptation she wrote with composer Nancy Ford, she hoped their collaborative endeavor would capture the spirit and tone of the landmark play. Their chamber-style musical adaptation, now in world premiere full production at Lyric Stage through February 23, does superb homage to Williams’ masterpiece. It succeeds, ethereal and evanescent, as a stand-alone musical creation, viewed early on its artistic journey. It’s an intimate, mesmerizing chamber musical that croons the soulful fantasies of lonely dreamers. ‘Blow out the candle, Blue Roses….”
How often does a brand new work with limited workshop production get mounted professionally with a top-flight cast, musical direction and orchestration in a full-size venue with really high production values? The creators get to evaluate their work in its current state under ideal circumstances (one seated in the house beside me, scribbling madly, opening night). Indeed, the audience gets to experience the birth of something very special. They can say, “I saw it emerge!”, long before the rewrites stop and the final polish sets its elegant veneer in place for eternity and/or triumphant Broadway and London runs. So much of what gets presented in the DFW region fits into the “tried and true” market, often the boring, “done to death” one. Take a chance on something new and exciting, crafted with skill, love and strict attention to source of inspiration. It’s superbly staged and impeccably sung, even when songs get a tad repetitive and expositional in Act One. Act Two surges with the heartfelt emotion of the play pouring out of every note sung or played to heart-wrenching climax, one that draws clapping, cheering audiences into standing ovations out of genuine appreciation, not customary, polite obligation. The music — delicate, dream-like and expressive – floats through the hall as if borne on cascades of pure imagination. Subtle yet deep, the notes reach to the soul of the play and elevate Williams’ script without making it torchy or banal. What a glorious piece of musical art “Blue Roses” will be when the lyricist taps the last ‘save’ on the laptop.
Jay Dias’ expert musical direction blends well with Lyric newcomer Shelley Butler’s simple, non-stodgy stage direction. The play builds on flashback realities that emerge as ghostlike memories. Dias and Butler mix the natural and romantic elements with a clarity that enhances the work’s ephemeral quality. The four performers could not have been better cast; each uses his or her talent, experience and musical expertise to create a balanced, dynamic picture. National award-winning musical star and celebrated cabaret artist Sally Mayes wears the bittersweet role of Amanda as if born to play it. North Texas native and Oklahoma City University graduate Duke Anderson drives the play’s arc with firm, gentle mastery as Tom, the narrator and Amanda’s son. His pensive rendition of “His Magic Scarf” in Act One communicates the total essence of his character’s life tragedy. Recent regional newcomer Laura Lites reveals a Laura beyond “shy bird” stereotype, and her voice and presence blend superbly with the magnetism of DFW Critics Forum honored Kyle Cotton as the Gentleman Caller. Their exquisite performance of the Act Two duet “The Glass Menagerie” tops the show. Congratulations to Lyric Stage for a marvelous launch.
Scenic design by Randel Wright, costumes by the much in demand Ryan Matthieu Smith, sound and light design by Bill Eickenloff and Julie N. Simmons all conspire to securely round out the production. Huge kudos to Jay Dias and Shelley Butler for putting Nancy Ford and Mimi Turque’s promising work together with ethereal style and theatrical sizzle.
“Blue Roses” runs February 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21 & 22 @ 8:00 PM and February 9, 16 & 23 @ 2:30 PM.
Tickets: www.lyricstage.org or 972-252-2787
Photos by Michael C. Foster, to come.