Sunday, June 10, 2012

"Wheelhouse" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

It's where the captain steers his boat, it's a batter's favorite spot to hit a pitch and it's also GrooveLily's name for its one-time traveling bus. "Wheelhouse" is the story of a band on the road, the difficulties of keeping everything together, and most of all, a love story dedicated to a dream.

Think musical theater with the emphasis on music. It is more a concert of songs with a plot than it is a plot illustrated with songs. And it is totally enjoyable. We root for these two guys and one girl. We want them to figure it all out, though we can't really ever figure out how they're going to do it.

Valerie Vigoda (violin), Brendan Milburn (Keyboards) and Gene Lewin (Drums, guitar and knees) are GrooveLily. They are excellent musicians and singers but, most of all, they are performers! They play different instruments as well as various characters they meet along the road (Lewin's RV salesman is a hoot, as well as Milburn's game-show host). Milburn's voice is freaky high, but lovely. So is Lewin's. But when Valerie Vigoda is out in front we are drawn to her like agents to a commission. She, with her other two band members, have written book, music and lyrics that are honest and heartfelt, as well as funny and  inventive.

They're doing it with plenty of electronic magic but few mirrors -- almost everything you hear on stage, including the bass lines played by Milburn's left hand, is live ( a few computer sequences are needed at times). You must remember this is a rock and roll band without an electric guitar. The songs would groove harder with one, but GrooveLily is about musical theater, not rock and roll. Volume is 'way down so you can hear the lyrics. It all works fabulously in context.

Our favorite songs: "Giving it All Away," "We're in a Rock Band," and the one song that talks a little bit about the world they are viewing from the bus: "Rootless Life." If there were a few more songs like this one the show would hit us harder in the belly.

As it is we recommend "Wheelhouse" to everyone. It is lighthearted, tuneful and fun. If they choose to take it further, we will be happy to jump aboard that old bus with them.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼ BANG
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Wheelhouse" Four Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. Lisa Peterson's lightning-quick direction and each of the three performers earn one star each. The BANGLE is for musicianship. They make something quite complex seem simple. This is an impressive bunch. We hope they stay together a long time and travel by train next time.

(One more note: Theater audiences are old and getting older. "Wheelhouse" is a show for all ages, but you're going to have to sit up close to really enjoy it. How many 20- and 30-somethings can shell out $69 for a ticket? Sigh. This is our Game of Life. We need to find a way to keep the tires inflated on our theatrical bus.)

Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through July 1


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