Kate Morgan Chadwick and David Barlow in Perfect Harmony at The Acorn Theater. Photo by Jim Baldassare.
BOTTOM LINE: Dynamic character relationships and hilarious comedic acting make Perfect Harmony something to sing about.
Perfect Harmony is about a New England prep school's two a cappella groups, Lady Treble and The Acafellas, competing against each other to win a title at nationals. The story takes place over the course of their school year, and we see the groups fall apart and build back up as friendships and frenemies are formed. Eventually, everyone comes together at nationals and work as a team through their shared love power of song. Aw, shucks. You walk away feeling good and singing the catchy songs.
The two groups use an arsenal of cliché pop tunes to rock out in the geekiest way possible, universally achieved by a cappella dorks everywhere. Their repertoire includes "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," "Eye of the Tiger," Get Ready," and my favorite, Rihanna's "Umbrella," which they turn into a song about friendship and teamwork. While no one's voice blew me away Streisand style, the level of vocal talent is more than appropriate for a high school a cappella group, and each ensemble member shows off impressive pitch and tone as the entire show is neither amplified nor accompanied.
Andrew Grosso brings fresh voices to stereotypical characters through his writing and direction. While we've all seen the stereotypes he uses, such as the jock who likes to sing, and the mentally ill girl who just wants to participate, he adds funny twists to make them fresh. For instance, when play-it-safe control freak Melody (played by Dana Archeson) tries to use "big words" to condescendingly get her point across, she uses the wrong words but still delivers them with bitchy confidence: "You know that we all have different beliefs… and you should keep your comments non-dominational." Choices like this one break the mold of their stereotypes and keep the audience laughing. Additionally, Grosso doesn't take the time to set up the character relationships, but just dives into each ensemble's dynamic connection, expecting the audience to keep up and learn along the way. I appreciate a writer who doesn't need to spoon feed his audience.
Allow me to gush here: I LOVED the performances of Kate Morgan Chadwick and David Barlow. Barlow plays Simon, a whiny, allergy-ridden freshman with surprising vocal talents. A lot of the time his dialogue is more like a stand-up comedy act with a lot of one-liners that don't support the plot line and only exist for laughs. That kind of a character can be frustrating if performed poorly, but Barlow does it so well, with incredible expression and comedic timing, that you don't mind that his character's actually kind of useless. Chadwick plays foreign Lady Treble member Mickey D and slimy music producer Kiki Tune. Mickey D's obscure Russian block accent and her off-the-cuff honesty about her horrible home situation is hilarious. Kiki Tune, a tact-less music producer trying to contract a hunky member of the Acafellas, is played with annoying intensity; Chadwick chews her words as she seduces a much younger man. These characters are different but equally hilarious, leaving me very impressed with Chadwick's comedic chops.
Perfect Harmony is a fun show that brings new dynamics to a overdone concept in today's entertainment scene. In the last two years I have seen a handful of shows about glee clubs and show choirs in addition to being a bit of a "Gleek" myself. While Perfect Harmony's concept isn't anything new, the fresh comedic energy and the smart twists Grosso gives his stereotypical characters are certainly unique. Perfect Harmony will leave you chuckling and humming it's tunes for days.
(Perfect Harmony plays at The Acorn Theater, 410 West 42nd Street at 9th Avenue. Performances are Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesday through Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $49.50-$59.50. For tickets visit telecharge.com or call 212.239.6200.)