Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 24, 2021

Review: Goodspeed Musicals, Passing Through

Goodspeed Musicals, The Norma Terris Theatre, Chester, CT
through April 4, 2021 (virtually, on demand)
by R.E. Smith

The current remote reality has given theater fans opportunities that might not have had otherwise. One example is Goodspeed Musicals offering the chance to view a recording of a production from its smaller, developmental venue, the Norma Terris Theater.

“Passing Through” was recorded live in front of an audience in the summer of 2019 and it is a good fit for the home viewing experience, due to the smaller, more intimate story, simple set and lack of spectacular production numbers. That said, as a true stage performance, some beats do come across a bit more melodramatic than probably intended, as the direction is trying to fill a whole room, rather than “fit” a small screen.

Based on a true story, 23-year-old Andrew sets off, on foot, to cross the country and, at first, seek answers, but then ultimately, to just listen to the people he meets along the way. The score creatively reflects his journey, mimicking the style of the regions Andrew visits. “Song of the Soul”, “As I Go Passing Through” and “Stranger on the Side of the Road” are especially solid, memorable songs. There is one number that captured the audience, “Keep On Walking”, but because of its deep narrative, and the character who sang it, it was oddly disconnected, as if it belonged in its own, separate show.

Structurally the book could use a bit more trimming and focus. We only meet a handful of the people Andrew encounters on the way and it is never quite clear what lessons he has taken away from them. Even up until the very end of the show, one gets the sense that family troubles, always at the forefront, have prevented him from really listening at all. At times more attention is given to his personal demons than then the people he meets and that feels disappointing.

The ensemble performers are certainly first-rate. Max Chernin as Andrew has a strong, clear voice, earnest demeanor and an effective “listening face.” Charles Gray, in a number of roles, was welcome in all of them, with his rich baritone and easy style. Reed Armstrong gets some nicely defined and varied character moments. Celeste Rose plays an atypical “love interest” with problems of her own, but a no-nonsense demeanor and powerful voice make her tough yet sympathetic.

Usually, few people would have the chance to see this kind of archival video, so it is nice that more audiences get to catch a developing new musical when they would not have had, or did not get, the chance.