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By Robert Delaney
A 19th-century railroad worker miraculously survives a freak accident and goes on to live a totally different life for the next 12 years in The American Crowbar Case, a new musical being given its world premiere by The New Theatre Project at The Mix Studio Theatre in downtown Ypsilanti.
With music created by Gray Bouchard and book by Jason Sebacher, this first production of The American Crowbar Case is a triumph for all concerned. Director Keith Paul Medelis, a talented cast and Bouchard and his Match by Match musical ensemble have done a truly impressive job of bringing this show to life for the first time in The New Theatre Project's new performance space.
Playwright Sebacher has taken the bare bones of what is known about Phineas Gage, the Vermont man who survived having a steel rod rammed through his skull by a premature explosion, causing an involuntary lobotomy, and has woven quite a tale therefrom.
He has also interwoven a side story about two contemporary academics who are rivals in the field of Gage scholarship.
Peter Giessl, an Oakland University alumnus, gives a terrific performance as Gage, while really fine performances are also turned in by Julia Garlotte as Constance, Gage's pre-accident wife, and Melissa Coppola as Missy, the other woman in his life.
Jamie Weeder and Dan Johnson are also quite believable as the sparring academics.
Coppola does double duty as a member of Match by Match, along with Bouchard and Linden McEachern.
Ben Stange choreographed this innovative production to Bouchard's music, which is contemporary and full of energy. To get a taste of it, go to www.matchbymatch.com and scroll down to where you will find one video clip and one audio clip of songs from the show.
Not surprisingly, religion doesn't fare very well at Sebacher's hands, but my real criticism of his story has to do with the final twist of the side story of his two university professors, one I think audiences will have trouble accepting.
By any measure, this production is a major accomplishment for this young theater company and these talented musicians. True, there is language that might turn off some theatergoers, but if you can stand the f-bombs, this is a production you shouldn't miss.
SHOW DETAILS: The American Crowbar Case continues through Oct. 23 at The Mix Studio Theatre, inside The Mix at 130 West Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays through Sundays, plus a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee. Call 734-645-9776 for ticket information, or go to www.thenewtheatreproject.org.
Reprinted with permission of the New Monitor, Oct. 13, 2011
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