Friday, December 19, 2014

Song of the spouse

Paul Greenwood and Penny Fuller in 13 Things About Ed Carpolotti. Photo: Meghan Moore.

I suppose anything that brings the luminous Penny Fuller back to town is some cause for celebration.  Still, I can only give 13 Things About Ed Carpolotti, which closes this weekend at Merrimack Rep, two out of three cheers (and maybe only one and a half).  It's a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half, I suppose; Ms. Fuller warbles sweetly, and her accompanist, Paul Greenwood, tickles the ivories (and even croons) with sophisticated skill.  The design is likewise luxe, and the direction assured.

It's just the material itself that's a bit lacking. Or perhaps the problem is that the songs composer Barry Kleinbort has devised for this chamber musical undermine the tone of the original material from Jeffrey Hatcher's bleakly comic Three Viewings. Fuller's monologue (the third and best of a matched set which the New Rep gave a savage reading of a year ago) traced with morbid aplomb the travails of a rather willfully innocent widow as she woke up to the nefarious past of her deceased husband (the eponymous Ed).

The wicked fun of Hatcher's text largely derives from the perfect pace of poor Mrs. Carpolotti's appalled descent into a milieu of thugs and mobsters - to all of whom dear old Ed seemingly owed cold hard cash. Although never fear -  she's rescued from this den of thieves in a nice, tight twist, which gives the show a needed closing boost.

Which is a good thing, because the songs kill the momentum of the script's chilly satire, and the cocktail-hour mood of the music softens its light sting. Which is too bad, because Kleinbort's tunes (which he composed at Fuller's suggestion) are actually appealing - they just don't advance the action, and aren't designed for black comedy. And Fuller, whose air of baffled innocence seems a close match to Hatcher's intents, perhaps understandably winds up playing the songs more than the original text.  Even the decision to move the action (such as it is) from a funeral home to Mrs. Carpolotti's living room somehow subverts the mood. So the show ends up not only slight, but slightly at odds with itself - which is perhaps why this vehicle sometimes seems to stall.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Moonbox shines in their Musical of Musicals

Kander & Ebb get theirs in The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!

Parodying musical theatre on its own terms hardly counts as a new idea -  the Forbidden Broadway franchise ran for years in its various incarnations, and today's skits on SNL (and even South Park) regularly take knowing pot-shots at the Great White Way.

But believe it or not, Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart's The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! actually finds fresh life in a genre which itself is almost ripe for parody - and the winning version from Moonbox Productions (at the BCA through Dec. 20) has the energy and smarts to more than sell the show's big laughs (and coast through its weaker patches).

The excuse for the insider satire (this time around) is that at the last minute, the producers of a planned pastiche of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander & Ebb have lost the rights to all the songs they had hoped to showcase. And of course the show must go on, so they crib together a revue (actually five mini-musicals) all "in the manner of" those marquee names - which, of course, plays as unconscious parody from its opening bars. Although to be honest, I was laughing out loud well before the curtain rose, just from reading the program - for with song titles like "Oh, What Beautiful Corn," "Did I Put Out Enough?" and "Hola, Aloha, Hello," how could the show be anything less than hilarious?

And I'm happy to report it is mostly a stitch - although given your personal attitude toward each of these composers, your mileage may differ in different sections. Me, I got a kick out of the whole thing. And I also chuckled at Rockwell and Bogart's central conceit - that the melodramatic triangle of ingénue, romantic lead, and creepy landlord powers far too much of our musical theatre (and so provides the plot of every "musical" in Musical, whether it's "in the manner of" Jerry Herman or Stephen Sondheim).

But it's Bogart's lyrics that sell the show - indeed, composer Rockwell hews so closely to the tunes he's parodying that his melodies often read as direct lifts. Which in the end is okay, actually, as it allows us to savor the precision of Bogart's satiric aim. And this lady does know her way around Broadway, and so nails again and again its stupid subtexts and cloying cliches - although she pours the most scorn on the juke-box operas of Andrew Lloyd Webber (whose oeuvre, one character quips, "can sound a teeny/like bad Puccini").

At Moonbox, you could argue that not all the performances are quite as sharp as Bogart's snark - but by curtain you'll probably be laughing too hard to argue anything, and at any rate all the performers are talented and game, and light up the stage with their energy.  (Which makes the show something of a paradox - it's actually a big-hearted satire.)

Certainly the leads are remarkably skilled. As the put-upon heroine, "June," Katie Clark proved herself an endlessly inventive (and tireless) comedienne, while  Peter Mill, as the clueless, hunky "Bill," gave clarion voice to some nearly-recognizable Rodgers & Hammerstein classics. Meanwhile the drily witty Meredith Stypinski deftly stepped into the shoes of Aunt Eller from Oklahoma, the Mother Abbess from The Sound of Music, and even Joanne from Company, but shone brightest as "Dear Abby," the Jerry Herman diva who admits she "can't dance or sing" but is somehow center stage even though "she hasn't done anything." Finally, in the villain's role, local light Phil Tayler chewed the scenery with gusto, but didn't quite come into his own until he was transformed first into a hilariously slinky "Jellicle Cat," and then into Kander & Ebb's nuttily perverse Emcee from "a Cabaret somewhere in Chicago."

I shouldn't forget, however, the beaming chorus and dance ensemble, who often carried the show: Julianne Daly, Nicholas Davis, Mathew Kossack, Caroline Lellouche, Allison Russell, and Andrew Winans seemed unfazed even when asked to roller-skate around the set in a tribute to one of Lloyd Webber's weirdest efforts (the now-forgotten Starlight Express). But perhaps they sensed that the choreography devised by director Rachel Bertone was as clever as Bogart's lyrics - so they were happy to give it their all.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Messiah triumphant

Harry Christophers conducts.  Photo: James Doyle.

I was probably not alone in hoping that this year's Messiah at Handel and Haydn would be something special.

And judging from the tumult that followed the oratorio's final, exquisitely moving "Amen," I was also not alone in thinking this version had indeed proved triumphant - and not only sparkled like another jewel in the crown of the Society's bicentennial, but was inarguably the finest Messiah of Harry Christophers' tenure - which makes it one of finest Messiahs to be heard in Boston in many a year.

Of course by now it's widely acknowledged (although you read it here first) that Christophers has brought the H&H chorus to a sublime peak. In fact I'd argue there's no finer chorale in Boston at the moment; some are larger, of course, but none can boast the interpretive subtlety and expressive precision that is now the standard at H&H. 

Still, I've often expressed frustration with the Society's Messiah, as conductor Christophers seemed to have trouble drawing a roster of soloists to match the gleaming vocal machine he had so painstakingly assembled here.

But this year's quartet was different - perhaps the best across the board that H&H has brought together in ages, for anything. Soprano Joélle Harvey (a favorite from previous H&H appearances) once more displayed a superbly controlled melisma in such arias as "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!" and illuminated glowing emotional depths in the transporting "I know that my redeemer liveth." Meanwhile tenor Allan Clayton was her match in tenderness, while projecting perhaps a deeper knowingness that was evident from the opening bars of "Comfort ye," and reached a heartbreaking climax in "Thy rebuke hath broken His heart."

Choral directors - hire this man!
And for once I even warmed to the countertenor, Tim Mead, who was consistently elegant in his phrasing, and deployed more power than his predecessors in the lower range of the part; his duet with Harvey, "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd" for once came off as a marriage of equals (I see I wrote "gorgeous" next to this aria in my program). Best of all was bass Brindley Sherratt (at left), who gave recitatives like "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts" the authority of an Old Testament prophet, but later infused that command with a compassionate grace that transformed the famous "The trumpet shall sound" into a climactic statement of redemption.

Was everything perfect? Well, almost - I still wish Harry could nurse along "He was despised and rejected of men" at more than a crawl; but this year the chorus brought a welcomely abrupt power to the following "Surely He hath borne our griefs," and the cascading phrases of "He trusted in God that He would deliver Him" were brilliantly teased into something like sneering laughter - an effect that's only possible, I think, with singers as nimble as these.

Needless to say, familiar moments from previous years delighted yet again: "For unto us a Child is born" still danced along the night winds with the angels - who were once more impersonated by trumpeters Jesse Levine and Paul Perfetti, who blew their song of triumph from the second balcony. The orchestra was also in close to their finest form, with concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky taking care to tune the ensemble onstage to avoid the subtle slippages in tone that can bedevil period performance. Like everyone else, the players seemed to give this Messiah just the right balance of transparency, heartbreak, and redemptive warmth.  I doubt I will hear its better - or even its equal - anytime soon.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A visually charming Little Prince

Wil Moser, Laura Jo Trexler, and Andrew Barbato chart the stars in The Little Prince.  Photos: Andrew Brilliant.

Whenever I hear that another composer and lyricist are adapting Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's classic The Little Prince for the stage - well, I used to scream "Noooooo!" at such moments, but now I just shrug. Because I know the project is doomed. If you doubt me, simply survey the many fallen Princes littering the landscape like "winsome" ruins (dozens of dramatic adaptations, a movie musical, several stage musicals, and a couple of operas and ballets). Look on these works, pop composers, and despair!

So going into the New Rep's new version of this legendary property, I already knew that the music was going to be bad. Of course it was going to be bad; how could it not be bad, when our pop-musical "voice" (if you can call it that) swings between cool, narcissistic irony and schmaltzy, narcissistic uplift (both of which the gallant author of The Little Prince would have despised)?

Still, several adaptors have gotten a good deal closer to expressing Saint-Exupéry's charmingly sombre appeal than composer Rick Cummins and lyricist John Scoullar have. It's not that their score is bad, exactly - it's pretty much standard-issue in every way. But that's just the problem. The soaring but uninspired themes, the rippling arpeggios, the "sensitive" chord progressions . . . you've heard it all before. And it's all nice enough - it's just utterly beside the point (and the plunking keyboard arrangement here doesn't help). Sigh. Anyone who liked this score could never understand how a seeming drawing of a hat could actually be of an elephant inside a boa constrictor . . .

One of many striking visuals.
But whenever the music stops, the New Rep's version has its sudden compensations. The design, for instance, is simply divine - particularly Matthew Lazure's evocative set and props, which diverge in style from the author's famous watercolors, but nevertheless cleverly tie together his themes (while Chelsea Kerl's costumes consistently charm). And director Ilyse Robbins for the most part resists the saccharine blandishments of the score, and comes up with one striking visual after another (as in the Little Prince's first appearance, at right).

Robbins also draws affecting performances from her entire cast. Alas, the usually reliable Nick Sulfaro doesn't read as experienced enough to conjure much of the persona of Saint-Exupéry (who survived several plane crashes - including one in the Sahara during which he probably first hallucinated the beginnings of his masterpiece).  

But young Wil Moser is just about perfect as the gravely sincere visitor who travels from Asteroid B-612 to discover certain truths about life and love; and newcomer Laura Jo Trexler does witty work as both his beloved Rose and the Snake who obligingly ends his journey.  Best of all is the versatile Andrew Barbato, who etches several crisp cameos of vanity and conceit before playing the lonely Fox who longs to be tamed with a frisky, neurotic sweetness that makes you forget all your doubts about the show. Indeed, during Moser and Barbato's gambols, I sometimes could have sworn I heard in the laughter of the crowd the chiming chuckle of the Little Prince.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Busch loses his balance

The talented cast of The Tale of the Allergist's Wife.  Photos: Mark S. Howard

There are almost too many reasons, I'm afraid, why the current Lyric Stage production of The Tale of the Allergist's Wife doesn't quite work; but the bottom line is that the text itself is tricky - and perhaps not the full success everyone pretends it is. Indeed, Charles Busch's tale is told in contrasting keys that are played almost simultaneously; and at the Lyric, director Larry Coen, though blessed with an able cast, hasn't found the right balance between its conflicting tones.

Of course this "straight" play was something of a departure for this celebrated drag performer. In fact, Allergist marked his first foray onto Broadway (where it ran for nearly two years); so it's no surprise his text sometimes strains to reflect an uptown rather than downtown milieu. Its heroine, one Marjorie Taub, is clearly a lady who lunches, but when the curtain rises she is mired in a midlife crisis (her relentless exposure to high culture has only convinced her of her own mediocrity). At the Lyric, she's even ensconced on Central Park West, where she can suffer most picturesquely, that is when she isn't being interrupted by the siren call of the bowels of her crude-but-honest mother (who suffers, I'm afraid, in her GI tract rather than her soul), or the repeated visits of a childhood friend, Lee, who boasts the kind of high-flying lifestyle that Marjorie can only dream of.

Now if you squint a little, you may perceive the lineaments of one of Busch's bawdy parodies moving beneath the surface of these gambits. This time around, the cultural refs come from the likes of Hermann Hesse rather than Beach Blanket Bingo, it's true; but they serve much the same function as they did in those early skits, and Busch's dialogue once more yo-yos from the piously high to the unapologetically low. And then there's Lee, who clearly occupies the same dramaturgical niche as Chicklet did in Psycho Beach Party, or the Mother Superior in The Divine Sister: she's a kind of psychological drag queen, a dazzling female figure who isn't at all what she appears to be - in fact she could be a grifter or a terrorist, or perhaps isn't even "real" at all.

So Mr. Busch has decked out his old act in new clothes for Broadway - he's put his drag in "drag," if you will. And I wouldn't argue that this experiment wasn't worth a try; the trouble is that he doesn't really have the dramatic discipline demanded by his newly adopted genre. In Allergist, Busch is still basically writing linear skits, studded with one-liners that are meant to simply draw laughs, or set up the leading lady for her next star turn; he hasn't yet learned to craft dialogue that generates an independent emotional atmosphere, or suggests interlocking thematic concerns.

Thus while Allergist is self-consciously high in concept, it's relentlessly low in execution. Whenever we start wondering whether Lee isn't like one of those Hermann Hesse doppelgängers whose home address is the collective unconscious, Mom breaks wind, or brays a Borscht-belt wisecrack. And to be fair, some of these lines did crack me up. But while such antics served Busch well when he was sending up other people's pretensions, here he mostly winds up undercutting his own.

Marina Re and Caroline Lawton.
And director Coen and the talented Lyric cast simply haven't figured out a way to resolve these conflicting impulses. To be honest, my guess is that no one could, not really; I imagine the Broadway version coasted on star power, and the transgressive sexual edge that Busch eventually gives the proceedings (Lee is soon suggesting to her hosts a ménage à trois).

But that kind of "shock" counts for less these days, and as if to compensate, Coen lets Ellen Colton soft-shoe halfway to the Catskills as Marjorie's mom; meanwhile the appealing Marina Re gropes for a through-line for Marjorie herself, and Joel Colodner supplies a genial presence but little more as husband Ira, the eponymous allergist.

Still, the show marks the return of Caroline Lawton (at left) to the Lyric after an extended absence, and her take on Lee is something to see. Tossing her auburn locks and sauntering around in buccaneer boots as if she owned not only Marjorie's place but her psyche as well, Lawton is nearly a perfect sexual sphinx, which is just what Lee should be. Alas, Coen doesn't conjure much mystery around her, more's the pity, nor does he suggest any of the psychological allergens that might spark Marjorie and Ira's eventual rejection of this particular invader.

But again, I can't say the playwright is much help in this regard; indeed, The Tale of the Allergist's Wife becomes choppiest (and even grows politically puzzling) just when it should be coming together most cogently. So in a way, Coen's strategy proves a canny one - the laughs see him through, at least superficially. Busch recently updated the many references in the play to keep it topical; too bad he couldn't devise a unifying vision for it at the same time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Huntington's Awake mostly sings

Will Lebow exhorts his family to awake and sing.  Photos: T. Charles Erickson

I can't think of the last time we've seen a play by Clifford Odets get a major production in the Hub.  And it's easy to guess why: this playwright often feels dated in a way few great dramatists do.

So . . . does that mean, perhaps, that he isn't truly great?  Well - speaking frankly, I would probably rate Odets only on the edge of greatness - but still (just barely) in the club. He's certainly of historical importance: his portrait of the Bergers, the struggling Jewish family in Awake and Sing!, counts as probably the first to be seen in America outside of the Yiddish theatre (and its emotional template is in some ways still in effect - as you may be able to judge from the tidal wave of plays about Jews and Jewish families onstage this fall). Still, the play's basic themes remain universal, particularly the conflict between the elder Bergers, who have sacrificed their dreams (and even their children's dreams) out of fear of financial ruin, and the younger generation who yearn to break free of their parents' shackles  - as well as those of society at large.

I have to admit, though, that even if he's universal, Odets is a complicated case in his particulars. Structurally he is often simplistic or clumsy, and his sentiments lean toward the political, while his politics are always sentimental. What's more, his characteristic patois (another breakthrough, actually, in the Broadway of his day) now sounds stilted; and his plots often toy with types or stereotypes, and are sometimes shadowed by sexism or other prejudices.

So why should we still be interested in Clifford Odets? Well, this playwright was one of the first to be noted for his "voice" - and it's still there, clear, caustic, and unmistakable (dated as its cadence may be).  And oddly, Odets can be at his most muscular when he's at his clumsiest; his characters wrestle with each other, and there's often a charge of buried challenge to even his off-hand exchanges - as a result, his dialogue often truly sings, or at least hums with combative current. Best of all, he understood before it became a slogan that the personal is political, and vice versa - and he was an expert at evoking the braided nature of the two.

Will Lebow as Odets' patriarch, Jacob.
And what sustains director Melia Bensussen's current production at the Huntington (which closes this weekend), is her appreciation of that particular dimension in his work. She brings a  thoughtful balance to his occasionally overheated dialectics, and limns an intriguing sense of political tragedy to what can sometimes read as histrionics.

Elsewhere, however, Bensussen made for a curious directorial fit. Indeed, even though this is certainly a play with hair on its chest, I sometimes felt she was trying to "rehabilitate" Odets by giving him a millennial wax. She seemed uncomfortable, for instance, with the more ghoulish aspects of the script's domineering mother - yet undercut the character's desperation (and thus our sympathy with her) by tidying up her milieu (the wolf of squalor should be sniffing just outside the Bergers' door, but at the Huntington, James Noone's digs looked fairly genteel). And at the same time, Bensussen toned down the unapologetic avarice of the family's Uncle Morty - perhaps out of fears of conjuring anti-Semitic imagery. (But alas, part of Odets' point is that the left and the right were battling it out economically within the Jewish clans of his day.)

This left the production somewhat muted in tone; in intellectual terms it was all there, but Odets' vital sense of hurly-burly sometimes seemed to have gone missing. Still, Benssusen's take was hardly as oblique as the over-praised Broadway production of a few years back; indeed, I think we're unlikely to see a stronger version in these parts any time soon. And the production certainly showcased  several remarkable performances.  Will Lebow made a grand return to the Huntington stage with his portrait of the failing Marxist patriarch whose suicide kick-starts the younger generation's bid for liberation; he was given a run for his money, though, by newcomer Eric T. Miller, who nailed the confrontational moxie of the family's brash boarder, Moe Axelrod.

Elsewhere the news was almost as good; although I'd argue mother Bessie should be more of a gorgon, Lori Wilner certainly gave her a ruthless drive, and David Wohl made us understand the kind of husband who could instinctively bend to her will. Meanwhile Annie Purcell skillfully hinted at conflicted depths beneath daughter Hennie's bitterly cowed surface. I was less taken, I'm afraid, with Stephen Schnetzer's rather blank Uncle Morty, and Michael Goldsmith whined a bit too much as young Ralph, the Odets factotum whose desire to awake and sing should strike us as at least potentially heroic. Meanwhile local light Nael Nacer made the same mistake he made in The Seagull last spring - although it's hard to fault an actor for this: he made us care too much for his character!

James Noone's rather genteel tenement.

In the end, the production I think reflects the kind of conflicted impulses we often see in "enlightened" versions of the classics - and in Bensussen's in particular. I recall this director edited the homosexuality out of her ham-handed production of Merchant of Venice, and then worked up a wildly over-complicated super-structure to "critique" the sexism of Taming of the Shrew. She simply doesn't trust an audience to be able to parse the prejudices of a play's period all on their own; she's an academic, after all, and perhaps unconsciously casts playgoers as incoming freshmen in some sort of ongoing seminar.  

To be fair, though, while Bensussen's political correctness sabotaged her Shakespeare, in a way, her cast of mind works both to her advantage and disadvantage when it comes to Odets. On the one hand, her censorious urges dilute this playwright's bristling emotional power.  But on the other - she's not so very different from this playwright, frankly; he's a bit of a reforming pedagogue, too - and this gives Bensussen some unique insights into his method. So she does capture perhaps the essence of his distinctive song, if not its abrasive edge.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The theatrical bounty of Trip to Bountiful

Cicely Tyson shines for Jurnee Smollett-Bell in The Trip to Bountiful. Photos: Craig Schwartz.

I've been around long enough to know a theatrical Rolls when I see one, and trust me, The Trip to Bountiful, which wraps its run at ArtsEmerson this weekend, is about as sleek a set of wheels as you're likely to find onstage this season. Whether it amounts to much more than a gleaming vehicle for its distinguished star, Cicely Tyson, is open to debate, I might argue - if I felt like arguing; but I don't, not really. Bountiful is a handsome, thoughtful, well-acted production of a minor play, but for most audiences (and most critics) that has been more than enough - particularly given it showcases a much-loved 81-year-old star on a post-Tony victory lap.  So who am I to disagree?

And for the record, Ms. Tyson is luminous indeed, and perhaps knows better than to go digging for depth where there ain't all that much to be found. Horton Foote's crowd-pleaser, like many of his crowd-pleasers, aims for something like the haunted spirit of Chekhov, only with a bit more mass appeal.  After all, the playwright cut his teeth on TV, in the days of shows like Playhouse 90 (in fact Bountiful began its life as a broadcast in 1953), and he never lost his Hallmark Hall of Fame chops. His signature trope is the small-scaled portrait of loneliness, dabbed with wistful sympathy, and framed with a nod to the knowledge that home may be where the heart is, but it's still awfully hard to find in real life (not for nothing did he write a play series titled "The Orphans' Home Cycle").

Of course in the rearview, teleplays like Trip to Bountiful have begun to look a bit like Chekhov simply because they're so comparatively genteel, so poignantly civilized. And Bountiful is certainly poignant as hell; in what amounts to nearly a pure distillation of Foote's usual method, it follows the gently failing Carrie Watts (Miss Tyson) as she forsakes her unhappy lodgings with soft son Ludie (Blair Underwood) and dissatisfied daughter-in-law Jessie Mae (Vanessa Williams) for a dream of the past - the stately family manse she remembers on the outskirts of the ironically-titled Bountiful.

We, of course, know what waits for Carrie at the end of her sentimental journey; in fact there isn't a single (even minor) surprise in this play. But we hardly mind, for there's no bite to her disillusionment - when the idealized scales finally fall from Carrie's eyes, the moment simply feels like yet another exercise in nostalgia.

But there is one new wrinkle in this particular production - director Michael Wilson and his designers have retro-fitted the play (which was originally designed for white actors) with a poignant racial subtext - and one that aligns neatly with Foote's Oscar-winning screenplay for To Kill A Mockingbird. Miss Tyson and her co-stars drift through a careful reconstruction of the apartheid that once reigned in the Deep South: we note they are always standing in the "Colored" Waiting Room, or seated in the back of the bus. The issue is never forced - in fact it's never even commented on - but it haunts the production; every moment of grace counts for that much more against this backdrop.

The trouble is that it's hard to square American apartheid with the halcyon days Carrie remembers in Bountiful; we wonder whether in the Jim Crow era her family would have really been allowed to own a country estate, much less join dances at the Opera House in town. Hence at the finish, this subtext is quietly dropped, sans explanation.

Blair Underwood and Vanessa Williams in The Trip to Bountiful.

Luckily the actors have been doing subtle enough work that we don't really need it for the script's gentle homilies to hit home. And I'm not only referring to Miss Tyson's performance. Indeed, while she may be the "draw" of the tour, co-stars Vanessa Williams and Blair Underwood are its under-sung surprises. Ms. Williams remains a striking beauty, with a formidable stage presence, and hints at veins of frustrated feeling beneath Jessie Mae's no-nonsense exterior; meanwhile Underwood contributes a smoothly under-played portrait of her pliant, but far from weak, husband. My eye was also caught by skillful turns from Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Arthur French, and Devon Abner - although really the entire cast is poised and persuasive. The beautifully detailed scenic design is by Jeff Cowie, the period-perfect costumes are by Van Broughton Ramsey, and Rui Rita provides the evocative lighting. There isn't really a false note in the entire production. So to my mind it's all the talent onstage (and off) that makes this particular Trip truly bountiful.