Musical numbers: “In Side Out,””Thin,””Let It Go,””I Can See You Here,””If You Really Loved Me,””Yo, Chlo,””If You Really Loved Me” (reprise), “Behind Dena’s Back,””Out Side In,””Grace’s Nightmare,””All I Do Is Sing,””Never Enough, “”I Don’t Say Anything,””The Passing of a Friend,””Things Look Different,””Do It at Home,””Reaching Up,””Finale.”
We know that group therapy sessions don’t usually include singing and dancing , but in their new musical “Roleplay,” Adryan Russ and Doug Haverty make the audience believe it’s the most natural thing in the world.
This audience-pleasing show, which had an extended run at the tiny Village Theater in New York, has been rewritten and restaged by the original team in Sarasota’s intimate Florida Studio Theater in anticipation of a commercial Off Broadway run in late winter or early spring.
“Roleplay” follows five women, all stand-ins for many of us, in their weekly therapy sessions with a warm-hearted counselor (Judith Walton). There’s Molly (Forrest Richards), a thin woman who obsesses about her weight and the problems she thinks it’s causing her marriage; Liz (Denise Nolin), the hyper-active, super-organized executive trying to balance her career with her home life; Sage (Lauren Mufson), a spiritualist who has trouble saying what she feels and determines her life by the cards and stars; Chlo (Shaelynn Parker), a lesbian, single mother who holds herself back from relationships so she can raise her wild teenage son; and Dena (Deborah Tranelli), a former singing star trying to cope with life after the top 40.
In among the dialogue, they sing their stories in songs that are bouncy and friendly, seemingly familiar but appropriate to the mood. They chide one another when someone’s suppressing an honest feeling and eagerly step into each others’ shoes to share the therapeutic value of role playing, at once funny and touching thanks to Henry Fonte’s bright and energetic staging.
The story is shallow at times, and the small and important breakthroughs the women experience come a little too quickly to be believable. Even when some of the book scenes appear pat, the cast makes the characters believable and has audience members rooting the women on as they burrow through their problems.
With the exception of the soft-voiced Judith Walton, the actresses sing with power and a brassy quality, lending a vibrancy to both the humor and pathos in the songs. Richards, the company’s most charming performer, gleefully burns a marriage certificate as she leads the rousing, gospel-styled “The Passing of a Friend,” and Tranelli gets into the spirit of the rapping “Yo, Chlo,” in which she impersonates the mother’s teenage son’s surprisingly worldly view.
Choreographer Gary Slavin works with Fonte to give even the most potentially ludicrous moments a human and natural quality.