‘Crossing’ at Signature Theatre by Don Michael Mendoza

Signature Theatre’s concert version of Grace Barnes and Matt Conner’s Crossing tells the story of eight people all in different decades of the twentieth century waiting at the same train station. According to Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, this show has been an ongoing project for the last six years that just made its most recent workshop debut at Shenandoah University. Musical Director Gabriel Mangiante orchestrated the show for the first time and this production gave the audience a first listen at what a full-staged version would sound like.

The stage was filled by a line of nine actors all dressed in black under a projected photo of train tracks ready to sing their part of the show with each scene defined by a title announcement on the screen above. The opening number called “Here I Am,” – reprised later to close the show – stated that any ending is a new beginning and was an upbeat, hopeful view of waiting for life’s next step at the train station.

Connor showed a great use of layering of different lyrics sung in syncopated time by different groups of actors and was a musical technique commonly used throughout. Each solo or duet after the opening showed the audience a pivotal moment in life at the station for each character. The talented cast was comprised  of Signature Theatre veterans Priscilla Cuellar, Maria Egler, Vincent Kempski, Amy McWilliams, Christopher Mueller, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Nova Y. Payton, Chris Sizemore and newcomer Sam Ellis. Albeit an all-star cast of performers, there were some specific songs that stood out as notable moments in the show.

The ensemble did well as a whole with the new material, but Cuellar, Mueller, Olivera and Payton blew the roof off of the Max Theatre with their amazing vocals and the way they each embodied their characters. In order of appearance, Mueller captured the excitement of a backpacker exclaiming his upcoming adventures in Europe in “Bed and Breakfast,” Payton – who will play Effie in Signature’s upcoming production of Dreamgirls – rattled the audience with her showstopping civil rights plea “Follow The Drinking Gourd.” Olivera moved the room with words of hurt in “Fly,” and finally Cuellar rounded out the night and offered hope in “After The Rain.”

The material in this new musical kept the audience’s attention, was entertaining and had stimulating inspirational lyrics, but like any new musical there were some questions left unanswered, important details left out and improvements that can be made before it becomes a full production. I left the theatre wondering whether the show was about the life of the station or the relationship between the characters. I also wondered how it was about the “interwoven stories of eight people who come together at a train station” as Schaeffer said in a show description when each character was from a different moment in time. The character of Boy (Ellis) seemed irrelevant in this version of the show aside from his interactions with Homeless Woman (Cuellar), and I didn’t feel that the songs “Lovely Day” and “Little Miracles/Everything” were up to par with the rest of the other numbers as they seemed too repetitive and droned on.

Matt Conner.

Crossing is a fantastic concept for a musical, but as any work in progress there are still many steps ahead to solidifying the show. I enjoyed seeing the results six years of hard work on a piece brought to the stage and was honored to be one of the first to hear the premiere of the show’s orchestrations. Overall, I give kudos to Schaeffer, Conner, Barnes and Signature Theatre for presenting another new work and I look forward to where this production will go in the future.

Running Time: One hour with no intermission.

Crossing in Concert concludes today – October 21, 2012 at Signature Theatreat 2 and 7 PM in downtown Shirlington – 4200 Campbell Ave, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at 703-820-9771 or purchase them online.


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