Review: Daring new work by Jaime Lozano pays moving tribute to women

A Never Ending Line at The Players Theatre in Greenwich Village.

‘A Never Ending Line’ at The Players Theatre in Greenwich Village.

by J.S. Alleva

Seeing new theatrical work is both exhilarating and unsettling, especially on opening night, when a show reveals itself publicly for the first time and a fresh audience must feel its way through uncharted territory.  This is challenging for any show, let alone non-traditional work.  A Never-Ending Line is not your average musical.  It is a song cycle conceived and directed by composer Jaime Lozano, whose ideas have been called, by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, “consistently surprising, inspiring and current.”  A Never-Ending Line is a moving tribute to the women in Lozano’s life, comprised of songs and stories central to the female experience, composed in collaboration with nine highly-acclaimed (and female) lyricists.  The song cycle had its world-premiere in Paris at Broadway au Carré, and now, in its New York debut, boasts enough show-stoppers to make you wish it was a full-scale musical.  To catch this wonderfully-collaborative work, head to The Players Theatre in Greenwich Village before it closes on September 17.

The show features four women between 20-40 years old, each with a unique voice, personality and stage presence.  Seventeen songs make up the cycle and include themes of love, acceptance, dating, motherhood, sisterhood, discrimination, body image and aging, each from the view of an individually-drawn character.  Each woman sings multiple solos, and joins the others for fuller numbers, growing more and more connected and energized as the night goes on.

The show is filled with poignancy, compassion, anger, insight and humor–truly something for everyone.  A rousing reprise of the title number “A Never-Ending Line” midway through the evening feels like a full-on finale, yet the individual performances continue, revealing more characterizations and a revitalized energy among the cast.

Standout performances include Florencia Cuenca (Woman 3), whose rendition of “Maybe in Florence”, its own form of ugly duckling tale, wowed the audience with disarming authenticity, bright hope and heart-breaking tenderness. (This number alone was worth the trip from Philadelphia.)  Add to this a powerful performance of the lovely “And The Years Go By” and gentle “You My Son” (about the bond between mother and unborn child,) and it’s clear that Cuenca is a talent to watch.

The throaty, mellow-toned vocals of Kat Blackwood (Woman 2) are reminiscent of popular recording artists in edgier numbers like “Take Care” and “Diet or Die.”  Her moment truly comes when she pours everything she has into the deeply-moving freedom anthem “Mountain in the Sky.” Blackwood and Cuenca both add an unearthly resonance to Lozano’s richly harmonic arrangements.

Emily Esposito (Woman 1) has some of the most controversial pieces of the night, sharing first the pain of religious discrimination in “The Neighbor from Next Door,” and then a hilariously-shocking “If You Break My Sister’s Heart” with spot-on comedic timing.  The cast joins Esposito in somber solidarity for the more serious “Variations of a Cycle.”

A spunky Erica Wilpon (Woman 4) brings vivacious Broadway energy to her performances, with a tender rendition of “Lost in the World”, a melancholy “If Only”, and the laugh-out-loud tour de force, “Hello Forty”. Her vocal clarity lets every well-written word be enjoyed in this complex composition.

Company crowd-pleasers include “Our Fav’rite Pair of Heels” with clever, synchronized choreography and “A New Day” where many stories weave together in blended harmony.  The final “A Never-Ending Line” wraps up the show with what appears to be choreographed sign language to beautiful effect.

While some of the songs deal with mildly-clichéd themes (“Diet or Die”, a fitting-into-wedding-dress song, or “Why I’m Single” an online dating tale,) and sometimes resonate less personally and more politically (“The Neighbor from Next Door”), most of the songs and their performances have the ‘unfakeable’ ring of truth which, no matter what a song’s topic, must be present to connect with an audience on a deeper level.  The fact that so many of these songs hit that high mark (or if not, come very close), on a first sharing of new material, bodes very well for this collaborative work.

The Players Theatre is a long narrow black box with dark red painted walls and carpeted floors.  Lighting design by Amanda Clegg Lyon keeps the open stage back-lit in deep violet, highlighting a 3-person orchestra lining the back wall.  Scenic design by David Molina is minimalist, a single row of four chairs (red enamel wire-frames on casters), evenly spaced across the stage, at least at first. They are the only set pieces.  The chairs are used as props as well as furniture.  In concept, the four red chairs feel appropriately symbolic of feminine lifeforce, though some of the chair-blocking feels unnecessarily contrived in some numbers. The more fully choreographed songs use the chairs effectively, and the simplicity of the set allows the women themselves to remain the focal point.

Costume design by Jaime Torres uses the color ‘red’ as a powerful symbol, subtly customizing each costume, from the candy-striped belted shirt dress of Woman 1, to the red jeans and lacy cami of Woman 2, to the red fitted cocktail dress of Woman 3, to the larger-than-life red feathered earrings and chunky heels of Woman 4.  The red in each costume feels carefully chosen and subtly expresses the varied aspects of what connects all women—the feminine flow of blood and of life.

The orchestra is comprised of Music Director and electric pianist Geraldine Anello, harpist Karen Speyer and cellist Melanie Mason who provide a solid, moving and colorful soundtrack to a multi-faceted performance:  staccato keys and thrumming cello at the intense moments; lilting harp, feather-light piano and mournful strings at gentler moments.  Seeing the three women perform as a living backdrop to the cast (rather than in the pit) is an unexpected and powerful choice, showing how the music of our lives is not a sidebar. It is part and parcel of who we are, involved in every moment, even the silences.  The choreography by Fernanda Aldaz shines best in the poetic hand and body movements of songs like “And the Years Go By,” and the group numbers “Our Fav’rite Pair of Heels” and “A Never-Ending Line” where the cast members most effectively use the four chairs.  Rich, varied and complex musical arrangements by Jaime Lozano and Jesús Altamira add texture and color to this daring cycle of songs.

A Never-Ending Line is not for those who require a single story to guide them, or a single cast of characters to move them through an experience. It is for those wishing to experience a dozen stories, hear from a dozen hearts and minds, and share an evolving creative journey with some of New York’s most talented writers, composers and performers. These are the stories that touch our world.  If we are not women ourselves, we have them in our lives.  We have shared their experiences, even peripherally.  We have been born of them.  A Never-Ending Line is a loving, respectful homage to women, and one that will surely get stronger and stronger, the more it is shared.

The show, performed without intermission, is approximately 90 minutes long. There is air-conditioning in the house.  Bathrooms are located down a flight of stairs in the historic ‘Café Wha?’ space.  Please contact the box office to inquire about wheelchair access to bathroom facilities.

Warning:  Some songs have sexual themes, explicit language and occasional profanity.

Performances are held on Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00pm and on Sundays at 3:00pm.  Tickets may be purchased at:  https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/972819.. Remaining dates include:  Aug. 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26, 27, 31, and Sept 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, and 17.

Music by Jaime Lozano

Lyrics by Lindsay Erin Anderson, Neena Beber, Lauren Epsenhart, Sami Horneff, Victoria Kühne, Lisa Mongillo, Marina Pires, Noemi de la Puente and June Rachelson-Ospa

Conceived and Directed by Jaime Lozano

Choreography by Fernanda Aldaz

Music Direction by Geraldine Anello

 

SIDE NOTE:  A Never-Ending Line is being recorded as a double album (English/Spanish) with proceeds to benefit various women’s organizations. The English album will feature voices from some of Broadway’s best:  Betsy Wolfe (Waitress, The Last Five Years), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent), Julia Murney (Wicked, The Wild Party), Emily Skeggs (Fun Home), Jennie Harney (The Color Purple), Hannah Shankman (Wicked, Les Miserables), Courtney Reed (Aladdin), Arielle Jacobs (Australia Aladdin, Wicked), Whitney Bashor (The Bridges of Madison County), Alena Watters (Sister Act, The Addams Family), Alexa Green (Wicked), Samantha Massell (Fiddler on the Roof), Ramona Keller (Brooklyn), Olga Merediz (In The Heights), and Doreen Montalvo (On Your Feet!), along with other performers.

For more info on the current run of A Never-Ending Line, please contact:

The Players Theatre

115 MacDougal St.  (between 3rd and Bleeker)

New York, NY 10012

www.ThePlayersTheatre.com

 

For more info on the composer/director, Jaime Lozano, visit:

www.jaimelozano.net

facebook.com/lozanomusic

twitter.com/jaimelozano

youtube.com/lozanoworks