Book by Noah Silva; Music and Lyrics by Peter Charney and Jack Saleeby
Conceptualized by Natasha Cole; Directed by Peter Charney
Off Broadway, Musical
Runs through 11.23.19
Dixon Place, 161A Christie Street
by Shani R. Friedman on 11.21.19
L-R: Jack Saleeby, Trevor Carr, Joshua William Green, Justin Glass and Justin Chevalier in Bright and Brave. Photo by Matt Ross.
BOTTOM LINE: Inspired by real events, Dixon Place presents a thought-provoking, funny and moving new musical about boyhood love at Eton College amid a panicked society’s views on homosexuality.
The all-boys school is home for classmates Regy (Jack Saleeby), Chat (Trevor Carr), Elliot (Justin Glass) and Beak (Justin Chevalier) under the guidance of their professor and housemaster, William Johnson Cory, affectionately referred to as Tute (Joshua William Green). Although the repressive world outside threatens to intrude, Regy and Chat, who meet on the first day of school, experience blossoming first love as they enter their final year at Eton.
It’s a blissful autumn of learning—with the induction of wide-eyed Beak into their group, letters written and exchanged, and tender embraces in the moonlight—all recounted by Regy as he writes in his diary about Chat. Their parents seem to have little involvement in their lives, especially for Regy (“the family’s precious heir,” according to Chat), but the stakes are much higher for Chat, who would be cast out of his family if they knew the truth.
Their lives and the romance are disrupted by the arrival of a new headmaster, the rigid and homophobic Hornby (Christopher Dippel), who is also Chat’s Godfather. He catches Regy and Chat in a moment of closeness and asks Tute if he has seen anything “unbecoming” between them. Tute brushes off his concerns, arousing Hornby’s suspicions about Tute and how the school is being run. Hornby blackmails Chat, telling him that he will go to Chat’s father about Regy unless Chat helps clean up the school. Hornby even tries to force Chat to go on a date with Eleanor (Taylor Rae Almonte), a respectable woman. Hornby’s actions create a lasting ripple effect, leaving the boys and Tute casualties in his wake.
The real Johnson was a long-time teacher, reformer, and assistant master, praised by the likes of Arthur Coleridge, and under whom various Lords and Viscounts had studied. The real Hornby wanted to rid Eton of liberal educators like Johnson and was aided in his endeavor by a letter Johnson wrote to a student that became public. Johnson was seen as fostering an atmosphere of intimacy (possibly innocent) between students, and his forced resignation created a scandal at Eton in 1872. Brett, who had been one of Johnson’s students and became a “fixer” in Queen Victoria’s government, later wrote a book devoted to his teacher.
Given that this musical has such terrific singers and harmonizers, it’s unfortunate that the lyrics are repeatedly drowned out by the onstage musicians. But otherwise, everyone sounds great. There are also a couple of awkward transitions, especially a glaring one at the end of the first act. But the actors are all very winning, in particular Saleeby, who brings a great deal of heart to Regy, and Chevalier, whose Beak adds welcome notes of sweetness and humor as the heavier story plays out. And two of my favorite songs—“Path of Your Life” and the opener “Bright and Brave”—have stayed with me since.
It’s a shame that the show has only a handful of performances. With a little polishing, it could enjoy a long run; hopefully it will get the chance.
(Bright and Brave plays at Dixon Place, 161A Christie Street, November 8-23, 2019. The running time is 2 hours with an intermission. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7. Tickets are $21 in advance, $24 at the door ($18/$21 for students/seniors). For tickets and more information visit dixonplace.org or call 212-219-0736.)
Bright and Brave is written by Noah Silva (Book), and Peter Charney and Jack Saleeby (Music and Lyrics). Conceptualized by Natasha Cole. Directed by Peter Charney. Choreography by Michael Persson. Set Design by Roni Sipp. Lighting Design by Emilio Maxwell Cerci. Costume Design by J Nick Gonzalez and Andrew Walsh. Music Direction by Jason Belanger. Assistant Director/Choreographer is Elisa Galindez.
The cast is Trevor Carr, Jack Saleeby, Taylor Rae Almonte, Joshua William Green, Justin Glass, Justin Chevalier and Chris Dippel.