“Welcome to our celebration of the graying of America.”
That intro line sums up the comical, lively Aches And Pains in a nutshell.
Set in a nursing home, the play presents vignettes of the daily lives of the patients and caretakers woven into a broader story about coping with aging and the triumphs and tribulations of life.
Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury debuted the musical 18 years ago in 1997 — with book and lyrics by the late Dan Calabrese and music by Richard DeRosa. Now it returns for the stage company’s 25th anniversary with many of the original actors reprising their roles (closer to the age of their characters, apparently) and Waterbury native DeRosa on piano.
Seeing an original musical created by people with Connecticut ties is really special. That is also a risky choice for a theater company because the public is less likely to have heard of it. But nonetheless, the theater was almost full at the second performance on Saturday night.
If you’re looking for a musical with a good storyline, this play left much to be desired with abrupt ends to Act I and the show without much closure or a steady plot. Like Love Actually, we follow several characters’ narratives as opposed to a primary protagonist, but the difference is that the sub-stories don’t necessarily intertwine and some are fleeting without any resolution or development.
That being said, the line writing was fantastic with uproarious humor. The character building was phenomenal. The songs, while introspective to help shape the characters, are deep and clever. Favorite songs included “Bubble and Bingo,” “Middle Class Blues,” “A Different Kind of Love,” Gaudiosi Hym of Joy” and “Mama.”
It’s not a play of action, but a play of words. The actors break the invisible wall between the audience and the stage and address us directly to tell their stories in a very expositional way. But rather than simply telling us who they are, they tell stories that characterize themselves. Maybe this structure is true to how it actually is at a nursing home, as everyone co-exists with separate and unrelated lives, constantly cycling through memories manifested in arbitrary stories and musings.
Even without a cohesive plot, you will be entertained.
And a large part of that is the wonderfully talented cast. Monologues are highly utilized to advance the story and develop the setting and character histories, so that required each actor to hold his or her own in bringing the characters to life. Especially since dance is not a large element of this show, more so relying on blocked movements, the actors really have to bring emotion and character acting into their songs.
Exceptional performers included Meric Martin as Bruno, Joyce Jeffrey as his mother, Angela Del Vecchio, Priscilla Squiers as washed up child star Mavis Marchand, director Tom Chute reprising his role as 100-year-old Elmo Cahill and James Donahue, who doubles as Dr. Tivolini and female busybody Phyll Gaudiosi.
Martin’s soothing, operatic tenor voice stands out, as well as his strong ability to emote, put on an accent and connect with Jeffrey in the song, “Mama.” Meanwhile, Jeffrey, although she’s far younger than her 82-year-old character, does emulate physical and emotional aches and pains well and she put her stamp on each song she sang, particularly the sultry, spunky “That’s Just the Way I Am.” I couldn’t understand her Italian insults, but she got the point across visually so you could understand her intentions. The storyline of a mother angry at her son for putting her in a nursing home is the one with the largest arc as they mend an embattled relationship.
Chute, though not anywhere close to 100, gives us the epitome of the aged as he spurts out random stories and lines like “women get sick, men die” to show the elusive mind at a ripe old age. Squiers does diva well, character voice and all. Donahue was at his strongest playing a woman named Phyll, having fun with flaunting the feminine mannerisms in drag as a comedic device.
All of the voices were honestly lovely though, and you could hear them each loud and clear, thanks to the sound design of Matt Martin (Meric Martin’s twin). Sitting three rows back, the volume sometimes seemed too big for the intimate space of the room, but at the same time it was impressive that the cast of 13 could provide such a full sound in large part because of the amplification. There was only one mic issue with rustling and feedback.
All in all, who knew aches and pains could bring about such energy and joy? This production cuts through the negative components of aging with energy and good-spirited fun.
Aches and Pains runs until Jan. 25 at Seven Angels Theatre on Plank Road in Waterbury. Tickets are $30 and $25 for subscribers and $25 for anyone under 21. Parking in the lot across the street is free. For more information or to buy tickets, you can call the box office at 203-757-4676 or visit SevenAngelsTheatre.org.
- Tom Chute: Elmo
- Joanne Chenkus: Emyline
- Joyce Jeffrey: Angela
- Michael Santoro: Ziggy
- Priscilla Squiers: Mavis
- Rebecca Pokorski: Maxine
- MIchaelangelo Mancini: Gary
- Leah Ciccone: Miranda
- Peter Bard: Cliff
- Stephanie Varanelli Miles: Nori
- Michelle Gotay: Josie
- James Donahue: Dr. Tivolini/Phyll Gaudiosi
- Meric Martin: Bruno
- Richard DeRosa: Piano
- Jane Bate: Synthesizer
- Mark Ryan: Drums
- Semina De Laurentis: Artistic director
- Tom Chute: Director
- Jane Bate: Music director
- Choreographer: Ralph Cantito
- Keri Dumka: Production manager
- Rachel Wolf: Stage manager
- Technical Director: Daniel Husvar