Friday, April 20, 2018
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Review: 'Vanishing Point' at American Stage can't find its way

ST. PETERSBURG — Vanishing Point, which opened over this past weekend at American Stage, was fatally flawed in its conception. Sure, what Agatha Christie, Aimee Semple McPherson and Amelia Earhart had in common is mildly interesting. They were strong women with public profiles in the 1920s and '30s who vanished, though the analogies are not exact. Christie and McPherson vanished only temporarily for unclear reasons, while Earhart was lost for good over the Pacific Ocean.

But other than their disappearances, the linking together of a Midwestern aviator, an English mystery writer and a Southern California faith healer is pretty arbitrary. Why not include Zelda Fitzgerald (surely she dropped out of sight at some point) or any other famous woman from the period?

As for the fantasy, upside-down limbo land referenced in the show's title — where the missing threesome supposedly lands to commune — it is awfully elusive. How did the women get there? Why did they go? And where is it, exactly? It's never really explained.

Still, this little musical by Rob Hartmann (music, book, lyrics) and Liv Cummins (book, lyrics), with an original concept and lyrics by Scott Keys, might have had a chance to be at least diverting, except that one of the three actors is badly miscast in the production directed by Kara-Lynn Vaeni.

Lauren L. Wood (as Christie) and Victoria Adams-Zischke (Earhart) were excellent in Sunday's matinee, but the less said about Kathleen Brooke Davis' McPherson, the better. Sometimes screeching out of tune and clearly not in the same league as her colleagues onstage, Davis' ungainly performance threw the show wildly off kilter. And what was costume designer Adrin Erra Puente thinking by stuffing her into such an unflattering yellow dress? (Wood's grown-up schoolgirl outfit, on the other hand, is splendidly smart, and Adams-Zischke's tailored flying togs are sharp.)

Vanishing Point has a long history, going back through almost 20 years of off-and-on development, and my hunch is that the Christie songs were some of the first written, because they are the most fun. The Plot functions as a leitmotif, and Red Herrings extends the theme as the ladies come up with alibis for their mysterious disappearances. Actually, there's probably the germ of a whodunit musical here, given Christie's catchy tunes and clever lyrics. Wood, with her cute little chipmunk looks and English accent, is a charmer and gives a delightful screwball performance.

Adams-Zischke is an impressive diva. With her short, curly blond hairdo, she reminded me of Meg Hilty (one of the Marilyn Monroe wannabes in Bombshell, the show-within-a-show in NBC's Smash), and her numbers, such as Vanity and Gravity and When I Am the Wind, are powerhouse anthems, full of grandiose emotional hooks.

Though the playbill lists 24 songs, the Hartmann score felt sketchy, especially during a talky stretch of Act 1 when a good song would have helped. Vince di Mura does yeoman service at the grand piano, and Nick Francone's abstract set is cool.

•••

Frankenstein, Nick Dear's acclaimed adaptation of the Mary Shelley Gothic thriller, is in movie theaters this week. It's a production of the National Theatre of England starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller, who alternate the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature in the two screenings. 7 p.m. today and Thursday at AMC Woodland Square, Oldsmar; Park Place Stadium 16, Pinellas Park; and AMC Regency 20, Brandon. $15.

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

 
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