ANN ARBOR — Performance Network Theatre brings a fully staged production of a new work by playwright David Wells to its stage.
Set in 1959 in the Brill Building in New York City, the center of musical creativity in the 1960s, the show focuses on a cast of two: fading middle aged songwriter Jimmy Wise (Phil Powers) and his protégé, 19-year-old Margie Lesser (Sarah Ann Leahy).
Like John Logan’s Red, presented by the theater last season, Brill deals with very different artists who, despite their unique perspectives, form a close and unbreakable bond. And while Brill is not quite so flawlessly written, it still manages to touch a similar emotional nerve.
Anyone who has ever experienced a mentor/protégé relationship will likely relate to the remarkably believable interactions between these two characters, which is a credit to both director David Wolber and the playwright. Leahy’s Margie represents the new face of music (colloquially termed “rock and roll”), while Powers’ Jimmy clings to the sounds of the Big Band era. After a bit of a rocky start, the pair learns to adapt to each other and thus a special partnership is formed.
Powers, a performer whose inherent likeability consistently shines through, is provided with ample opportunity to showcase his versatility. Not only does he skillfully handle his character’s emotional arc, he is also called upon to play the piano and sing throughout the show. Though some may consider the songs kitschy to the modern ear, he performs them with such conviction that the audience shares in their enjoyment nonetheless.
As Margie, Sarah Ann Leahy has an abundance of youthful exuberance, and clearly enjoys her repartee with Jimmy. It is her darker emotional moments which require more development, however, and this is particularly evident when Margie is recovering from a major life event. Still, she provides an effective foil for her acting partner and is also required to play an instrument live, which she handles with a degree of skill.
The set design, brilliantly envisioned by designer Daniel C. Walker, is undoubtedly one of the most impressive the company has featured on its stage. Not only does it depict the interior of an office in the Brill building, it includes a hallway and partial lobby. The costumes by Monika Essen, properties by Charles Sutherland, and sound by Will Myers all do their part to evoke the period. Audiences are certain to have an enjoyable evening out.
Brill runs Thursdays through Sundays until Feb. 10. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets for Brill can be ordered by calling Performance Network’s box office at 734-663-0681, online, or at Performance Network Theatre, 120 East Huron St., Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Tickets are $22-$41, with discounts available for seniors, members, students and groups.