The Last Session touches all the emotional chords

By Tony Schillaci & Don Church

The Spirit of Broadway Theater in Norwich is currently offering a theatrical experience that uplifts and proves that not only are new American musicals being written, but in the case of The Last Session are outstanding.

Playing until June 1, we were fortunate enough to be part of a sold-out audience on May 16. It was also ‘gay and lesbian night,’ a regular event to increase theater attendance.

Steve Schalchlin has written music and lyrics that successfully integrate with Jim Brochu’s well-structured libretto, especially for the character of Gideon, a successful pop-country artist, and former gospel singer. He’s a gay man living with full-blown AIDS and contemplates ending his life. 

The show’s title refers to the final studio taping of songs that Gideon secretly plans to leave as a goodbye gift for his lover, Jack.

The opening is a great crescendo that Gideon (Kevin Wood) plays on the piano. It grabs the audience and sets the perfect pace for this bittersweet musical.

Kevin Wood is truly a “piano man” with a voice to match any star rival.  The show seems to have been written for him alone.  He is perfectly cast and uses his considerable acting, singing, piano skills, and dynamic stage presence to great effect, and adds to these achievements by also giving a technically perfect performance.  He stopped the show with each solo musical number.

Patricia Gibson and Shawn Rucker play backup-singers Tryshia and Vicki.   Tryshia is a feisty, no-nonsense woman who understands Gideon’s struggles – herself being the mother of a gay son. Ms. Gibson’s voice is strong and true, and her emotional poignant singing equals that of many popular divas.

Vicki, a boozy, a tough, heart-of-gold character, spews sarcastic zingers at Tryshia and Gideon with expert timing, and is responsible for many of the musical’s belly-laughs. She’s a fine actor-singer. 

Enter Buddy, a singer who has worshipped Gideon for years and wangles his way into a job at the studio. Matthew Dyer succeeds in creating the essence of this bible-thumping, right-wing bigot, consumed by his misguided “faith.”  Dyer’s voice and performance is heavenly perfection.

When Buddy learns that his idol is both gay and has AIDS, he rails at Gideon’s ‘sins,’ and storms out of the studio. He returns when he realizes that the dying Gideon will record one of the bigot’s songs during this last session.

In a non-singing role, Jon Peterson as Jim – the unseen engineer in the booth with a booming voice-of-the-Lord echo - keeps reminding the singers they are supposed to be recording Gideon’s final legacy.

The songs “Somebody’s Friend,” “Going It Alone,” “When You Care,” and Connected.” should achieve top pop status.

Director/Musical Director Brett Bernardini has masterfully guided this exceptional cast with passion and sensitively. The finale offers four mellifluous voices in a song about hope and the resilience of the human spirit.

The Last Session touches all the emotions - it certainly touched ours.

© Copyright 2008.  Critics On The Aisle. All rights reserved.

(This review will be published in Metroline News Magazine, May 30)

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