In a political climate rife with talk about the influx of immigrants to the States, it's good to be reminded that we've always been a melting pot. In Evening — 1910, a new sung-through musical making its world premiere at Axis Theatre, composer and director Randy Sharp and Blondie guitarist Paul Carbonara have taken a few pieces from their earlier show, Solitary Light, and developed a new story about the immigrant experience told through dozens of original songs. Though its plot becomes muddled at times, Evening — 1910 has some of the most exquisitely crafted music to be heard on the New York stage right now.
It begins with the arrival of a group of immigrants, five women and three men, to Ellis Island. They're from all strata of society, a fact reflected in their clothing (costumes by Karl Ruckdeschel). Among them is Henry (Michael Sheehy), a poor Irish immigrant, who struggles to make a name for himself in New York with the new technology of cameras. But after a while, he wonders if he should take the easy road by marrying a wealthy heiress (Emily Kratter) rather than following his heart.
Director Sharp creates a living photo album onstage. David Zeffren's sepia-toned lighting gives us the impression of looking at pictures from the past, and when combined with Sharp and Carbonara's often haunting score, the effect is striking. Two early numbers ("Solitary Light" and "Where Is the Map I Made?"), together with Lynn Mancinelli's circuitous choreography, achingly depict the disorientation that newcomers to this country must have felt upon arriving on its shores.
The show's fuzzy story line, however, too often makes us feel like we're leafing through an album of unfocused photos. There are a few subplots that branch off from Henry's story, including a vaudeville theater owner (James Scheider) who feels the pressure of keeping his establishment in business at the advent of moving pictures. There are also brief glimpses into the lives of his stage manager (Justin McEllroy) and the stage girls (Shira Averbuch, Lynn Mancinelli, Stephanie Lynne Mason, and Katie Rose Summerfield), all of whom dream of better lives. The sheer number of characters in so brief a musical (75 minutes) leaves their potentially interesting stories, sadly, almost entirely untold.
This is a bit frustrating in a production whose gorgeous songs deserve more. Lovely numbers such as "Pretty Things," "Firefly," "The Girls Behind the First in Line," and "A Hundred Years From Now" boast some of the best-crafted lyrics currently onstage. The four-piece band, led by Carbonara, lends a depth to the score, filling the theater with sounds of a much larger ensemble.
Despite its snapshot of a tale, Evening — 1910 has much to recommend it, including the chance to hear Sheehy's crystal-clear tenor. It is certainly a musical journey into the past that's worth taking.
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