A Really One-Note Rosie Sings Big

Encores! Off-CenterReally Rosie
L to R: Kenneth Cabral, Eduardo Hernandez, Zell Steele Morrow, Taylor Caldwell, Ruth Righi, Anthony Rosenthal. Photo by Joan Marcus.

A Really One-Note Rosie Sings Big

By Ross

It’s funny how the world works sometimes.  Yesterday was not a typical day, but because we find ourselves in the middle of summer, I was particularly less busy at work than normal. And because of that free time, I was able to go see a matinee on a Wednesday, and still be able to see the Encores! Off-Center production of Really Rosie that same night.  The odd thing about this was basically the ‘demographics’.  For the sassy musical, Curvy Widow, I felt I was surrounded by older New Yorkers seeing a show that was basically written for them. It was about a New York woman of a certain age having to rediscover who she is after her husband dies. Sounds a bit morbid but it really wasn’t, it was fun and feisty, just like the lead actress, the very full-voiced Nancy Opel (a Tony nominee for Honeymoon in Vegas).  Than in the evening, I was surrounded by a whole other demographic: younger New York girls, maybe eight years old to early teens, with their parents in tow, (I’m not so great at guessing the ages of kids). We were all there seeing the family friendly kid’s show, Really Rosie, that was, just like the earlier show, basically written for that audience.  This time, it was about a fun and feisty young girl, Rosie, portrayed by a very similar, young and wonderfully voiced dynamo by the name of Taylor Caldwell (School of Rock). Rosie is a firecracker and working very hard in creating a persona for herself as she plays ‘making movies’ with her friends in Brooklyn. Who knew these two shows could be so similar, while also being so demographically the opposite.

Encores! Off-CenterReally Rosie
Cast of Really Rosie. Anthony Rosenthal (center). Photo by Joan Marcus.

Sounds like a parallel process kind of day to me. Too young to really connect with the first one, and definitely too old to connect to the later. But if your idea of fun entertainment is hanging around a band of super precocious young Broadway kids, mugging and trying to hog the spotlight, this could be your thing. The preteens around me seemed awesomely inspired and star-struck by the big voiced star, Caldwell, who most definitely can knock a song out of the ballpark with those lungs and that presence.  She totally shined in the almost-finale, ‘Avenue P‘, one of the few songs sung with somewhat of an emotional core. But for me, as the epicenter of Really Rosie, I found Caldwell lacked the acting chops to find anything beyond a one-note Rosie, and that one-note was basically annoying. I don’t know why any of these kids wanted to hang around with her, she was loud, arrogant, and bossy, with no layers of kindness beneath.  If she was a kid in my neighborhood, I’d probably avoid her at all costs. But these kids seemed to enjoy the bullying. Her posturing and grandiose behavior didn’t grate on them, like it did on me. This tendency to annoy could be said of most in the cast though, especially those who had the spot light aimed in their direction.

Encores! Off-CenterReally Rosie
Ayadele Casel, Kenneth Cabral. Photo by Joan Marcus.

But there were a few standouts that didn’t irritate this too-old-to-be-in-the-audience reviewer. Anthony Rosenthal (Falsettos) as Johnny carried himself well and seemed more than your average Broadway kid, styling a portrayal that etched out something close to a character than most of his counterparts. Kenneth Cabral (Encores! Runaways) as the tap-tastic Alligator claimed the most endearing spot on my list, especially when he and his choreographer, Ayodele Casel (Spoleta Arts Festival USA’s While I Have The Floor) danced us into a frenzy (check out her youtube video linked above). Mesmerizing is the only word that comes to mind. I wish I could say the same for the others. Poorly directed by Leigh Silverman to be loud and spotlight grabbing, they rarely managed to find much subtlety or character development within the text.  I expected, I guess, a bit more as these kids have resumes that many a Broadway performer would kill for, most notably; Ruth Righi (School of Rock) as Kathy, Zell Steele Morrow (Fun Home) as Chicken Soup, and Eduardo Hernandez (On Your Feet) as Pierre. Charlie Pollock (Violet, Urinetown) as the talented voice in the background does manage to steal the spotlight from these precocious kids. All he has to do is don a pair of glasses and he’s magic, as he created a different tone to portray an assortment of Mothers and one hungry Lion. It brought to mind the unintelligible Charlie Brown adult voices, but this time, we can understand the words.

Encores! Off-CenterReally Rosie
Cast of Really Rosie. Ruth Righi (center). Photo by Joan Marcus.

The stage is lovingly decorated with pretty clouds and an odd assortment of steps by set designer, Donyale Werle (In Transit), with garish costumes by Clint Ramos (Six Degrees of Separation), and not so subtle lighting by Mark Barton (Public’s Hamlet). It doesn’t exactly reach the same heights as most of the Encore! productions I’ve seen, but it did offer a colorful kid-pleasing esthetic which didn’t overshadow. With the ever glorious New York City Center Encores! Orchestra (music directors: Mary-Mitchell Campbell and Carmel Dean; music co-ordinator: Seymour Red Press; music supervisor: Chris Fenwick; original arrangements: Joel Silberman) playing those wonderfully charming songs, with music created by the legendary Carole King (1971’s album: ‘Tapestry’, Broadway’s Beautiful) and lyrics by the astounding genius that is Maurice Sendak (recipient of the 1964 Caldecott Medal for ‘Where the Wild Things Are‘), the songs excite and entertain.  These kids can really sell a song, not that this crowd needed much salesmanship to clap wildly with glee.  But this is a Glee world we live in now with these teens loving the big Broadway song (which I must admit makes me a happy theatre camper).  Now I just hope the next show they see has a bit more depth and feeling attached to it.  At least this is how this man of a certain age sees it.

Encores! Off-CenterReally Rosie
L to R: Ruth Righi, Anthony Rosenthal, Nicole Wildy, Eduardo Hernandez, Jaiya Chetram. Photo by Joan Marcus.
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