Eleven Charlotte-area high school students are competing in the new theater criticism category of the Blumey Awards, the Blumenthal Performing Arts’ annual musical theater awards program (read more about that here.) Each student writes three reviews; the following is one entry:
Too many high schools rely on extravagant sets, expensive choreographers and elaborate costumes to carry the school musical. Northwest Cabarrus does the opposite with “Flight of the Lawnchair Man,” allowing honest performances to pop in contrast to a simple, symbolic set.
The musical opens with a rousing number that describes the life of the satisfied people of Passaic, N.J. All the citizens are content with their picket-fence lifestyle except for Jerry Gorman. Jerry dreams of flying, a dream that is looked down upon by all his neighbors – except for his caring girlfriend, Gracie, who helps Jerry realize it’s all right to chase his dreams.
Lole Johnson gave a touching performance as the struggling Jerry, displaying a vast range of emotions with an honesty that allowed the audience to believe in Jerry, even when his entire town turned against him. Emily Absher also delivered a strong performance as Gracie. Her convincing faith in Jerry led the audience to continue to put their own faith in him.
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Their performances stood out against the simple background. Yards were indicated with a piece of picket fencing the actors could easily carry during a musical number. The only set pieces in the second act were a single piece of picket fence and Jerry’s balloon chair. This simplicity effectively communicated the overwhelming blandness of Passaic that leaves Jerry feeling so trapped.
The most stunning part of the performance was Jerry’s balloon flight. At the beginning of the second act, Johnson took a seat on what looked like a rickety, unstable lawn chair with balloons tied to it. The chair then defied all expectations and began to rise off the ground. Johnson remained perched on the chair, a yard off the ground, for the remainder of the play. The audience thus kept its focus on Johnson, whose innocent take on the character held our attention at all times anyway.
Director Andy Rassler was not afraid to have her actors make bold choices. Nelson Martinez brought tears of laughter as an overbearing FAA agent. The dynamic duo of Ethan Mullins (Big Jack) and Karen Stahl (Blaire) provided comic relief and a glimpse into the less-than-glamorous life of a pilot and flight attendant. Kelsey Locke was convincing as Jerry’s domineering mother.
However, these standout performances still managed to blend into an impressive ensemble. The family atmosphere they produce in “Flight of the Lawnchair Man” embodied everything high school theater should stand for: having fun, having a dream and having a little faith.
This article is part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance (a consortium of local media dedicated to writing about the arts) and the Blumenthal Student Critic Program.