Boho’s season opener doesn’t just touch your heart, it enfolds your soul in warmth and caresses you. It’s impossible to enjoy this folksy musical without shedding a tear or feeling a lump in your throat. James Valcq and Fred Alley’s collaboration, loosely based upon the film of the same name, is a story of redemption and hope. The composers eschewed the big, brassy scores often found in musicals and instead create a gentle mixture of folk-orchestrated country pop and bluegrass, spiced with a touch of the Celtic influence. Musical director Tom Vendareddo brings the score to life, employing an unseen and uncredited ensemble of piano, cello and mandolin. This simple tale, although told primarily through its music, seems to rejoice most in its quieter, reflective moments.
Director Anna Hammonds wisely chose to stage her intimate production in the tiny, 30-seat Heartland Studio Theatre, where the actors are only inches from the audience. Indeed, the line between theatergoer and actor almost disappears as you feel a part of the story. Diane Fairchild’s simple set and lighting conveys the earthiness of Gilead, Wisconsin, especially within the titular Grill. Fairchild’s lighting, coupled with Theresa Ham’s authentic costumes, take us on a journey through the seasons and small town attitudes, at first cold, gradually warming with brilliance and love.
The cast fully inhabit these characters, their powerful voices full of pain, healing and happiness. Laura Savage carries the show as tough ex-con Percy. As her own story melds with those of the suspicious, gossiping residents of her adopted town, Savage’s protective walls crumble as secrets are revealed. Nancy Kolton is beautiful and spot-on as Hannah, the bitter motherly Grill owner, and Laura Lindahl’s withdrawn, badgered Shelby, is heartrending and hopeful in this must-see production that absolutely “Shines.”