Homemade Fusion does not tell a story. As a song-cycle musical, narrative is abolished in favor of musical exploration of a theme, with contrasting and complementing numbers replacing traditional developments of character and plot. This production, staged in the Barron Theatre and directed by Eleanor Burke, brought to life around a dozen mini-plots in song form. These varied from cute and quirky to somber and serious, and all dissected the discrete, often strange situations, observations, and moments that mark a life. Though strong vocal performances powered charming (and occasionally moving) individual scenes, the production struggled with a handful of problems – many stemming from the choice of show.
By far the strongest element of the production was the stellar singing talent on display. Every member of the cast presented a level of raw ability that was truly impressive, and each delivered a truthful, compelling performance in every scene. Standout numbers included “Random Black Girl,” with Hannah Risser skillfully satirizing the nature of musical theatre and delivering a brilliantly energetic performance, and “Sherman and Madeline,” featuring a beautiful voice and excellent sense of character (not to mention comedic skill) from Clare O’Sullivan, describing the divide between an elderly couple’s sexual desires. The strongest performance of the night, however, came from Jonathan Hewitt, whose two contrasting solos were equal parts electrifying, hilarious, and heartbreaking. While the music remained strong throughout, several actors suffered from a lack of direction: awkward use of hands, uncomfortable shifting of weight, and a sense of not being quite sure of what to do during numbers became apparent.
Larger Issues became clearer as the play went on. With only a single (very talented) pianist to accompany the singers and numbers that almost all consisted of a solo performance, songs began to feel same-y before the halfway point in the show. Perhaps a more fleshed-out orchestration, with drums and bass to accentuate the differences in rhythm, volume and intensity in each song would have helped Homemade Fusion hold its luster longer. Obviously, given the constraints of the Barron, any more band members would not have been feasible, but this only makes me question the wisdom of picking this particular, variety-dependent, musical. This feeling of repetition, combined with stagnant blocking and a boxy, unattractive set, made the production feel a little boring by the end, despite the incredible talent of the cast.
Though ultimately the choice of production could have been more prudent, I enjoyed Homemade Fusion for its lively, touching exploration of life’s quirkier bits. Despite its flaws, the show comes recommended, if only because of the remarkable musical ability of every single cast member. The production team, as well, should be congratulated for dealing with the considerable intricacies of the play and challenges of the space. Homemade Fusion, if anything, calls one to contemplate the important moments, big and small, and in that sense, it was a charming success.