I'm Still Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road

Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater
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While there are many musicals which can claim to have “changed someone’s life” in a personal way, it is a rare show that can justify its place as a catalyst in the ongoing struggle for equality.  Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford’s show, I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking it on the Road is, undeniably, such a show. In 1978, the simple story of the show’s heroine putting together a new concert based on her real-life experiences as a single mother and artist focused attention on the question of womens' roles in society and the broader public debate about the difference between men and women. Cryer & Ford’s memorable songs pulled no punches, but they provided enough entertainment and emotional connection that the audience listened in a way they wouldn’t have with a more polemical piece.

 

Heather Jones, originally played by Cryer, is a 39 year old singer/songwriter with some innovative ideas about how she’d like to present her new songs on tour. The strongly feminist message of the songs and the even more forthright nature of the scenes she wants to include confuse and upset her manager, Joe. His paternalistic reaction and her arguments neatly tapped into the general Zeitgeist of the moment.

 

I’m Still Getting My Act Together and Taking it on the Road, which is having its West Coast premiere at the Laguna Playhouse, is something more than a sequel. The first act is a streamlined version of the original two-act show with a new second act that checks in on the characters 30 years after the events of the first act. Heather has brought the band back together in the same venue to try new songs, catch up, and commiserate. Joe, now more corporate and successful, surprises them by showing up and being just as argumentative as ever.

The recent reports that women earn $0.78 for every male $1 prove that, though we’ve made progress since 1978, there is far to go and I’m Still Getting My Act Together… makes that point as cogently as it ever did. The original score remains as tuneful and exciting as ever, and the second act songs are also strong, though they are tempered by age and experience.

Cryer both directs the show and appears as the older Heather in the second act. She has assembled a terrific cast, and, not surprisingly, directs the show with sensitivity and insight. As the older Heather, Cryer has less voice than 30-plus years ago, but she brings an honesty and clarity to the text which would be hard to better. As the younger Heather, Erica Hanrahan-Ball is a powerhouse performer with a large and lusty instrument which she can easily scale down for more intimate moments. She neatly captures Heather’s direct style, artistic energy, and presence. She also doubles as Heather’s happy-to-be-a-housewife-and-mother daughter, Bonnie in the second act. Rex Smith makes a smoothly smarmy and often distracted, Joe. Smith manages to blast out a few notes, though Joe is written as non-singing. The role also suffers a bit from being more a dramatic foil than a person, particularly in the second act where his pro-forma distaste for a guitarist with a nose ring feels odd for a music executive.

The band is made up of overachievers who raise the roof with their assured vocals. Special mention should be made for Jesse Johnson’s perceptive Jake, who wants to love and protect Heather. And, in the roles that suffered most from the cuts, Erika Schindele’s Alice and Jennifer Leigh Warren’s Alice make the most of their moments as Heather’s back-up singers. Warren has “Strong Woman Number” and several other places where she can let loose with her amazing sound.

Jim Prodger’s scenic design, D. Martyn Bookwalter’s lighting, and Kate Bergh’s costumes all enhance the period-to- modern shift in the show.

Laguna Playhouse    October 10 – November 1, 2015    www.lagunaplayhouse.com