Edges: It Should be Like Breathing

I find myself faced with a conundrum in reviewing the production of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s Edges which was produced by Geordie Brown and Lauren Aucoin for the Fringe this year. On the one hand, I am impressed by the sheer ambition and determination that it took for these recent High School graduates to produce, direct and perform this musical. This shows a resourcefulness that will benefit them well if they choose to pursue a career in musical theatre. I could praise them simply because they are young and they are talented, but I think to do so on those grounds alone would be ultimately disrespectful to these performers. They have presented themselves professionally and I feel like they deserve to be reviewed in the same way.
This production of Edges exceeded my expectations, and I feel that this show gives Halifax an adequate introduction to Pasek and Paul’s poignant, heart-felt, insightful lyrics about our experiences in the contemporary world. Keirstin Andersson, Geordie Brown, Devin Hindle and Becky Regan are very talented young performers and they should be proud of their immense accomplishments with this show.
Edges is a difficult show, vocally, musically and emotionally; it is challenging on a wide array of levels. When I saw this show in Toronto, starring some of Toronto’s most talented and beloved young stars, these actors even stressed how difficult the material was for them to learn and to perform. That being said, vocally, Halifax’s Edges cast is in a bit over their heads. The songs often don’t suit the registers of the singers well, and even sometimes when they are able to *just* reach the proper note, the audience is aware of the possibility for disaster. The voices are pretty, they’re on pitch, and the harmonies can be absolutely lovely, but Brown, Regan, Hindle and Andersson make singing look extremely difficult much of the time.
As far as acting is concerned, the show felt a little presentational, as though it were the Kiwanis Music Festival Concert Version of Edges instead of a Song Cycle. Geordie Brown, especially, presents himself in a very specific way, which seems to stem more from his own personality and less from the characters he is attempting to create. Although his persona evokes confidence and commands the stage, it often gets in the way of his truly inhabiting a character. Keirstin Andersson has a magnificent talent for belting, but I think she would benefit strongly from grounding her voice in the emotion of the song, rather than simply singing the music, because that will provide a connection between her belt and the lyrics. Songs like “I Once Knew” have the power to reduce audiences to tears because they are not written to showcase a singer’s talent, but to use that talent to express deep feelings and strong choices.
I think this cast would have benefited hugely from having an outsider’s eye directing the piece. It seems like a person with more experience would have been a great asset to this group of ambitious teenagers to help guide and inform their choices. The movements that Brown constructed seemed largely out of place in Edges, especially the Gypsy-like romp in the middle of “Be My Friend.” The lighting was extremely choppy and it seemed like the actors were in need of more detailed guidance as well. Andersson, for example, seemed unsure what to do with her hands while playing a pregnant woman, and resorted to resting them unnaturally on her belly for an awkwardly long time. These sorts of details could have been tweaked had the show had someone whose only responsibility was the direction of the piece.
Throughout the show, I couldn’t help thinking about the voice teacher I had in High School who was adamant that her students were never allowed to sing musical theatre songs sung by characters they would not be feasibly chosen to play at a professional theatre. At the time we all scoffed because none of us were allowed to sing our favourite songs. However, watching Edges today dramatized for me why my teacher had that rule. I am young, I am twenty-four years old, I spent my summer with four year olds, I hope I still remember what it was like to be eighteen. I don’t mean to sound condescending, but there is a huge difference in the experiences that one has as their twenties progress and that which is known freshly out of High School. Edges is a show about twenty and thirty-something year old characters who are dealing with complex issues like losing a child, and the breakup of intricate, emotional relationships. It is not that teenagers “don’t understand” these feelings, or even these experiences, but that the way they know how to deal with them is different from the way they will react in the future. For this reason, I think ultimately, these ambitious teenagers are too young to do justice to the insight that Pasek and Paul infused in this show.
I hope Andersson, Brown, Hindle and Regan will continue to create their own acting opportunities, while also always taking advantage of all the other training and experience that comes their way. I’m not saying that next time they need to do You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, but I do know that choosing a project based on its suitability and its ability to coincide with the individual talents involved usually leads to a show that becomes as natural for the performers as breathing.
Neptune’s Studio Theatre. $10.00
September 6, Neptune’s Studio Theatre @ 8:00 PM. September 7, Neptune’s Studio Theatre @ 7:50 PM. September 12, Neptune’s Studio Theatre @ 4:20 PM.

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