It’s not often that one gets the chance to preview a significant new musical that may well be Broadway-bound: right in Roseville, no less. Unbeatable is the story of Tracy Boyd, a hard-charging, Type A executive whose life is turned upside-down by breast cancer. Did I say “musical”? Yes, you heard right. It’s a show not so much about disease – its treatment and consequences – as it is about “the human spirit.” And in that vein, there are many opportunities for comedy and memorable songs.
This is Unbeatable’s West Coast premiere, and the show opened Friday night (6/14) for a three-week run at the Tower Theatre in Roseville, home of Stand Out Talent. I found this a fast-paced production that sparkles with excellent acting from a cast headed by Stand Out Talent founders, Jennifer and Jason Bortz as protagonist Tracy Boyd and her husband, Brad. All the players have extensive experience in theater in the Sacramento area and beyond, and that experience shows in the quality of their work.
So much of Unbeatable is about relationships, and it is in the drawing of relationships, especially those between husband and wife, that one can see the authenticity of this show. In the intimate setting of the small Tower Theatre, with the audience on three sides, you’re close enough to see facial expressions that would be lost in a big theater. You’re right there, and the realism of what you’re seeing in the faces of the actors can be very engaging, even arresting. The genuineness of the feelings represented is simply overwhelming at times.
Before going any further, let me point out that much of the professionalism of this production is attributable to director Todd Schroeder, a composer and performer with a national reputation. In fact, he wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the music for this show, and I believe I could see his inspired touch in many of the staging details that made this such an entertaining experience.
Predictably, there was plenty of drama during the evening, but there was even more comedy. There are a lot of laughs in this show – enough for any comedy billed as such – and the humor is helped by the excellent comic timing of the players. But it is the witty writing that gives the players so much to work with. That is another advantage of the small theater: I felt that I didn’t miss a word of either dialog or lyric.
And speaking of lyrics, despite many sensitively played dramatic moments, the musical numbers were the highlight of this show for me, and it seemed that each represented a different musical style. The lyrics themselves are wonderfully clever and carry the action, rather than interrupting it. All the songs are accompanied by a three-piece combo, anchored by the beautifully sensitive keyboard playing of Music Director Kay Hight. Interestingly, most of the actors have their own big solo number, and time and again, I was impressed with the quality of the singing. But what I heard was more than eminently listenable voices. These people are fundamentally actors who can sing, and it is their acting that delivers the real emotion behind a song.
Indeed, many of the songs are full of feeling, and “Hold on to Love” provided just one of the many emotional high points of the show. That said, I think there are more songs that are full of humor. I laughed through “Pricked, Poked and Prodded (that’s the lab rat’s reality),” “Super Shake” (in which Tracy and her best friend make a “healthy” shake on stage and try to drink it), and “The Pharmacy Song” in which Tracy’s doctor offers drugs, one after another, for her numerous complaints during treatment, only to add that the “possible” side-effects are the same as the original complaints. Overall, the music is good enough that I’d think about buying the sound track if it were available.
Last night was clearly a special occasion, and the opening-night crowd was full of breast cancer survivors and representatives of the charities that are benefitting from this production. So many of the audience members were intimately familiar with what was being portrayed – particularly the hassles of treatment – and they obviously loved the humorous handling of what are fundamentally serious issues. So it was no surprise that the standing ovation at the end of the performance was quick and prolonged. But I think that what the audience was responding to even more was the fundamental message of this show: value life and especially the family and friends that give it richness and meaning.
If this show isn’t Broadway-bound, it would be a miracle – and a tragedy. Good writing and outstanding music in a highly entertaining package: shouldn’t that be a formula for success? My advice is to see Unbeatable before it closes on June 30. If you miss this run, your next opportunity to see it might involve travelling to the Big City and paying a lot more for your ticket.
Information about performance times and tickets for Unbeatable is at www.standouttalent.org or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/385757.