The musical 29th and Oakes (book by Daniel Niewoehner and Kemper Thornberry, and composed by Ryan Li and Kemper Thornberry) traces a decade in the lives of Riley and Lila, who fall into the “riptide” of love — rather, they chemically imprint on each other — as high schoolers on Puget Sound. As Riley declares: “Nothing beats the dizzy high of being 16 and breaking the rules!”
They each must deal with their parents’ splitting up, as well as the realization that a shared experience doesn’t guarantee a mutual point of view. Anchoring the story is an encounter 10 years after they parted ways in which they rehash what went wrong, try to make amends, and perhaps pick up where they left off.
What elevates this from the average boy-meets-girl, boy-meets-boy, boy-loses-girl, boy-tries-to-rekindle-old-flame story is its clever nonlinear script, and the intense charms of fresh-faced leads Jeremy Kohler (Riley) and Margot Goddard (Lila). Despite a shaky prologue at the debut performance, Kohler’s pillowy tenor reclaimed the audience’s full attention and turned the score, which is alternately bouncy and plaintive pop, into something worthy of airplay, even reminiscent of Coldplay.
Musical director Ryan Li, commanding on keyboards, milks emo emotion from the mostly sung-through work and a combo consisting of playwright-director-composer Niewoehner on percussion, guitarist Rhys Stuart, and bassist Dillian Krichbaum. One memorable song, “Joker,” showcases Kohler’s perfect pitch as he pulls the opening line “You’re a joke, you are” out of thin air; later, it’s Goddard’s turn, in a stirring, angry duet reprisal. For her part, Goddard displays powerful acting chops through cry-singing and bittersweet recitative, although occasionally her vocal lines are in a register too low for her pipes. Another catchy tune, “ROTCO,” is all about the bass and features tsk-tsk cross-sticking on the drums, symbolic of the young lovers reaching a narrative crossroads.
A simple but effective set design — slashes of light shining on and off through a stained-glass reflection — helps toggle the audience from present to past, as do subtle wardrobe changes. And a 30-pound kettlebell anchors the entire lighting assembly, reminding us: Yeah, this is Fringe, and we must make do.
We’ve all been there: giddy, experimenting with mind-altering substances, sitting cross-legged on the floor — effortlessly singing from the floor and getting up without assistance. Ah, to be young! What’s exciting here is the young talent on display (mostly 20-somethings) and a narrative structure that’s a stroke of genius, offering dual perspectives, revisiting the same scene with just a splash of information added each time. All to say: There may be no do-overs in life, but with a little refinement and polish, 23-year-old Niewoehner could have a veritable hit on his hands.
Running Time: 55 minutes.
Playwright: Daniel Niewoehner, Kemper Thornberry
Composer: Kemper Thornberry, Ryan Li
Performers: Jeremy Kohler, Margot Goddard
Musicians: Rhys Stuart (guitar), Dillian Krichbaum (bass), Daniel Niewoehner (percussion), Ryan Li (keyboards)
Age appropriateness: Recommended for children 13+ older
Song list, and a link to Thornberry’s original music on Spotify:
2) 29th & Oakes Preprise
5) Lyla Wakes
6) Old Bugs
9) Won’t Crash
12) Buttercup Reprise
13) Talk Party
14) Lyla Wakes Theme
15) Joker Reprise
16) 29th & Oakes
The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.