Review: ‘Prime’

Hawaiian-born pop thrush Lisa Taylor deserves to have her considerable vocal skills showcased. She is a magnetic talent who projects emotional truth through every number she performs. Unfortunately, she is ill used in this underdeveloped, awkwardly staged rock tuner that is as short on vitality as it is in thematic veracity.

Hawaiian-born pop thrush Lisa Taylor deserves to have her considerable vocal skills showcased. She is a magnetic talent who projects emotional truth through every number she performs. Unfortunately, she is ill used in this underdeveloped, awkwardly staged rock tuner that is as short on vitality as it is in thematic veracity. Co-scripter and helmer Deborah Kassner makes little effort to stage the intermittent bits of drama that punctuate co-creator Luke Lehman’s mildly eclectic 19-song score, allowing characters to simply wander on and off El Portal’s large stage.

The main focus of “Prime” follows the plight of band singer Tanya (Taylor), who has fled a broken romance in New York only to find herself and her road-dead convertible stranded 3,000 miles to the West in Santa Cruz. She is soon entangled in the conflicting agendas of laid-back hometown musician Mark (Lehman), his more ambitious, substance-abusing bandmate Will (also Lehman) and the sexually voracious lesbian rocker Venus Dumont (Stephanie Torres).

Very little of the dramatic throughline is entrusted to the onstage characters. Instead, the plot is moved lamely forward by Tanya’s friend, the ubiquitous Chase Lowry (Kassner), who narrates the between-song tribulations of these troubled musical folk. He’s helped along by pre-recorded video segments that open up the action to a slew of environments, from the beaches of Santa Cruz to the Hollywood hills. The video sequences also allow Lehman’s dual personas to appear to be interacting with one another.

When required to portray his characters onstage, Lehman proves to be a woefully inadequate thesp who is slightly more at home in the skin of the delusional Will than as the more emotionally rooted Mark.

Taylor moves effortlessly through all her confabs and confrontations, while Torres always appears to have Venus revved up a notch or two above plausibility.

Lehman’s listenable rock score hints at a number of genres — rhythm & blues, reggae, country swing, folk — without fully resting in any. As a performer, he is at his best employing his reedy tenor on such tunes as “Starlight Man,” “Rollin’ Into Rockville” and “Girl’s Town.”

Taylor deliciously wends her way through nine solo numbers, highlighted by her driving show opener “Prime,” the contemplative “Redemption” and the bouncy “Just One Thing.”

All the musical numbers are backed by an onstage four-piece rock ensemble that inexplicably suffers from volume deprivation. Aside from the occasionally brief but impressive sax flare-ups of Mark Sowlakis, the band actually disappears from the proceedings.

Prime

El Portal Theater; 450 seats; $30 top

Production

A Prime Prods. presentation of a rock musical in two acts, with music and lyrics by Luke Lehman, book by Lehman and Deborah Kassner. Directed by Kassner.

Creative

Lighting, Craig Housenick; sound, Pete Coates; videography, Mark Thornton. Opened June 8, 2006. Reviewed June 10. Runs through July 1. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast

Band: Bob Burnett (guitar), Joey Modesto (drums), Mark Sowlakis (sax/keyboards), "Elroy" Lehman (guitar). Ensemble: Heather Smith, Jason Judge, Mark Sowlakis, Whitey Jameson.
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