The Great Work in the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio

David Carey, Kendall Anne Thompson and Ensemble in The Great Work. Photo by Amy Anderson.

David Carey, Kendall Anne Thompson and Ensemble in The Great Work. Photo by Amy Anderson.

It is one of the true joys of the Twin Cities that emerging, passionate artists are provided space to flex their creative talents and share new works. These productions play a vital role in pushing the stage in fresh directions and many times test the boundaries of theatrical storytelling. Perhaps this is why 7th House Theater’s new musical The Great Work (playing at The Guthrie’s Dowling Studio through January 3rd) feels a bit disappointing.

While there is much to admire in its gorgeous arrangements and rich melodies, its overtly sentimental inclinations feel conventional, especially when contrasted with its playful and inventive staging and Kate Sutton-Johnson’s clever, versatile set designs (which enhance the proceedings despite occasionally feeling a bit too clever). For a show that celebrates the power of musical harmonies and provides a stunning showcase of vocal talent, it ultimately doesn’t find a unified voice.

That is not to say the show isn’t enjoyable—it is. Its story of aging and father-daughter strife is fine, if shallow, and occasionally even resonant. Much of this is due to a nuanced and heartfelt performance from David Carey, who plays an aged composer seeking to relive his past and redeem his shortcomings as a father. His character is the most fully fleshed of the show, with others serving primarily to build his story. Unfortunately, this includes the part of his daughter, who despite a spirited performance from Kendall Anne Thompson, never feels quite knowable as a jilted, fairly angry woman. Generally, the production features a small cast of talented young Twin Cities actors, and the score allows each of them to demonstrate their significant vocal chops (The Great Work was written by Grant Sorenson).

David Darrow’s music, as mentioned, is the show’s primary delight, and while it feels a tad disparate for the tale it accompanies, it displays true creative promise. Yet, the show feels very much like a mash-up of two very different songs that never quite feels right. In structuring a story of present-day family drama with nostalgic, lighthearted flashbacks, the show doesn’t quite find a compelling rhythm. On their own, each half of the show, past and present, work fairly well, but together they feel dissonant.

That being said, one cannot help but think the musical could be more effective if it were longer (it clocks in at just over an hour), or if the collaborators had more time to build deeper exposition. The playbill notes that The Great Work began as a 1850s period piece but took a dramatic shift in November, just over a month before curtain. As such, a little more time, even a few more months, would likely do wonders. There is an interesting skeleton of a piece here, even if it leans too heavily on cheap romanticism. If the writers explored more fully what ties the show’s two worlds together, and particularly what in her father’s history impacts the daughter’s journey, it could be really good.

Nevertheless, go and see what these talented young creators are putting together. Wonder at the lovely score. Be captivated by the voices of the exceptional performers. Even though the show is ultimately slight, it’s likeable, and certainly a pleasure. The Great Work is not a great show, but it does show good potential.

David and Chelsea Berglund review movies on their site Movie Matrimony.



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