Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 27, 2016

Presto Change-O

Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
through June 11, 2016
by Jarice Hanson

The world premiere of the musical “Presto Change-O” at Barrington Stage Company’s St. Germain Stage is quite literally, magic, illusion, and pure fun. The cast is composed of Broadway veterans who draw the audience into the story of three generations of magicians, each of whom demonstrate a style of magic or illusion representative of their own generation, and remind us that a magician has to make us believe magic is real. At the same time, the story is one of family love and betrayal, reminding us that sometimes, real families need a little magic.

Getting a new musical off of the ground is tantamount to levitation, and the seeds of “Presto-Change-O” were originally planted at the Musical Theatre Lab at BSC. Eric Price’s book and lyrics are clever, intelligent, and witty; and Joel Waggoner’s musical compositions are contemporary and original.   Director Marc Bruni skillfully establishes an energetic pace with effective flashbacks that give the story emotional depth. The unseen live five-piece band led by Vadim Feichtner is as good as it gets, and every aspect of the production from set design to the many magical illusions draw you deeper into the story. 

The perfectly cast show features performers who you believe could be a family. The charismatic Lenny Wolpe, the suave Michael Rupert, and the hunky Jarrod Spector are the three magicians, while Barbara Walsh as the mother and Jenni Barber as the assistant who wants to be the one to say “ta da” have great moments of connection on stage. Bob Walton’s comic timing enhances the surprises that drive the plot, and the voices all blend together in complex harmonies that are true to the identities of the characters.

It is rare to see a musical with such flash played on such an intimate stage, and if I have any criticism at all, it’s that the volume of the electronically amplified voices somewhat overwhelmed the space, but this is a show destined to go far, and to play to larger houses. This original production reminds us that theatre is most assuredly a place where magic can happen.