Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Between the Lines

Jake David Smith and Arielle Jacobs. Photo: Matt Murphy

Between the Lines
Book by Timothy Allen McDonald, based on the book by Jodi Picoult  and Samantha van Leer
Music and Lyrics by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Choreographed by Paul McGill
Music direction by Daniel Green
Tony Kiser Theater
Through Sept. 11. 2022

By Lauren Yarger
Sometimes stories have happy endings. Sometimes they just make you feel happy. Between the Lines, a new musical based on the book by Judi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha van Leer, is an example of both and is a refreshing, engaging theater experience.

The story combines fantasy, fairytales and reality in a fun tale of awkward teen Deliliah (Arielle Jacobs) trying to find her place in the world after her parents split. She gets off on the wrong foot with her new high school's social queen, Allie McAndres (Hillary Fisher), -- or should I say knee? Deliliah accidently breaks her classmate's knee with a baseball bat. OK, I was laughing already before we met Allie's dumb jock boyfriend, Ryan (a very funny Will Burton). Delilah's mom, Grace (Julia Murney), who is coping with being dumped, paying the bills and trying to go back to school, has little time to notice how difficult things are for her daughter too.

Ms. Winx (Vicki Lewis) introduces Delilah to a special book. "Between the Lines," of which there is only one copy, self published. The school librarian has escaped into the pages of books herself and Composers and Lyricists Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson, making their New York debut, give Lewis a humorous number, "Mr. Darcy and Me" to let Delilah know it's OK that she is falling for one of the characters in the fairytale she carries around with her everywhere.

He is Prince Oliver (a perfectly cast and charmingly voiced Jake David Smith), but Delilah's secret is that he literally is stepping out of the pages of the book to chat with her. In a delightful switch to make believe, Director Jeff Calhoun, Lighting Designer Jason Lyons and Choreographer Paul McGill bring the book to life as Prince Oliver enters Delilah's world, then later again in act two, when she enters the pages of his story. Lyons does wonders with some action behind scrim and McGill shines with having Oliver's movements mimic Delilah's actions with the book. Scenic Designer Tobin Ost borders both worlds with shelves and shelves of books.

In the book, Allie is Oliver's princess, but there isn't any real love between them. Ryan is in love with her in this world too, but has been turned into a dog called Frump. A number of the other characters have dual roles and other storylines in the parallel world as well.  Will Delilah and Oliver find a way to be together? Will Delilah and her mom learn to communicate? Will Allie get her comeuppance and will Ryan ever stop making us laugh with his puzzled, vacant looks?

The answers are worth buying a ticket to discover. The story, adapted by Timothy Allen McDonald, and the music (orchestrations and arrangements by Gregory Rassen and music direction by Daniel Green) is engaging and appeals to young and old alike. At intermission, I was astonished at how much had happened in such a short time (the whole show runs about two hours and 20 minutes with 24 songs). It offers a wonderfully well developed female protagonist as well as a lot of other good female roles. 

One criticism is the heavy-handed lecturing we get from Delilah's friend, Jules (Wren Rivera), who identifies as non-binary. We get it and the bullying reaction of the classmates. We don't need it explained in a preachy manner. We are supposed to be able to read between the lines, right? Another knit pick is noise from backstage as actors change position or props are moved.

Between the Lines is clever, fun and engaging. The magic is ephemeral, however, as the run at the Tony Kiser Theater, 305 W. 43rd St., is limited through Sept. 11.

Additional casting:

Jerusha Cavazos, John Rapson, Sean Stack 

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:

  • God's name taken in vain.
  • Non-binary character
  • Homosexual references
Notes:
Though this plays at the Kiser, it is not a Second Stage production.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2022 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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