When it comes to new productions, there are three kinds of shows: those that rock on their first staging, those that are so-so and those that flop. Gracie and the Atom, the new musical at the Artists Repertory Theatre, is so-so.
When it comes to new productions, there are three kinds of shows: those that rock on their first staging, those that are so-so and those that flop. Gracie and the Atom, the new musical at the Artists Repertory Theatre, is so-so. Luckily, there is some potential for greatness.
Gracie (Beth Sobo), the recently orphaned main character of the production, is shipped off to Catholic school after her fatally curious father was struck by lightning in an ill-fated science experiment. She finds there the choice between science and religion, one of which she loves from the get-go and the other which she is extremely skeptical about. Gracie also spends her time trying to locate her mother, who ran off very early in her life.
The all-girls school is chock-full of stereotypical high school characters and run by the classically overbearing Sister Francis (Mary Baird). Sister Lidwina, played by Emily Beleele, is refreshingly original as a nun who is in love with physics, and her clever yet easily understandable science-y wisecracks are the highlight of the night.
This play is clearly not one for those who are greatly offended by atheism—Christianity is the butt of many jokes throughout the night, and most of the show covers the battle between religion and science for the main character, with the former clearly losing ground. Sister Francis, as possibly the most religious character, is strict and demanding and clearly a cookie-cutter villain; her change of heart (and the culmination of some of the play’s conflict) seems out of place and almost too simple.
The writer of the show is the Portland artist Christine McKinley, who is better known locally for her membership in the band Dirty Martini. She wrote most of the show’s songs before the script was conceived, which is always a problem when it comes to musicals. The songs seemed somewhat forced into the script, giving the audience the impression that they are watching a musical version of an overflowing shopping bag; the songs are, however, very well written and well performed, and the viewer may leave humming one of the tunes.
Potential is not something every show has, but this one has it in spades. The music is fantastic, the characters are well cast, and the story is quite good. It can’t be said that the show doesn’t have heart, or that it doesn’t hit a soft spot in the audience’s heart. But with so many big-ticket issues floating around, it’s hard to give the characters as much attention as they deserve, thus making them feel a bit like cardboard cutouts. Though it is easy to get attached to Gracie and Sister Lidwina, the other characters are so bland that they are hard to relate to.
With fabulous music and a great cast, Gracie and the Atom is on its way to becoming a hit show, but it seems to have overlooked character development along the way. A little elbow grease and some time spent on making the stereotypes into something more would give the show everything it needs to make it to the top.