Let's get in the car and just remember.

Remember the extreme talent that Hillary and I have for talking about Meghann Fahy in posts that have nothing to do with her?

This is not one of those posts.

SIX MONTHS AGO, I was on the other side of the country, enjoying some lovely California sunshine, when I got a text from Hillary that included the words "Sam Brown," "official on BroadwayWorld," and "MEGHANN FAHY." (Caps lock is our go-to font when texting about Meghann Fahy. Our phones actually autocorrect to it. So.)

FIVE MONTHS AGO, in the blistering heat of early August, Hillary and I took a roadtrip. Just a couple girls out on the highway. With Hillary's mental roadmap, and somewhat of a curfew, just two girls with somewhere very important we had to be - the Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, Connecticut to see The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown.

(We apologize deeply for this outrageously outdated post. Life got crazy. You know the deal.)

All this time later, it still makes us flail when we remember how much we loved this new work by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk. Going into the show, we weren't quite sure what to expect. Yeah, we'd fallen in love with the five or six songs that seem to have become staples at theatre-related concerts and cabarets. We took into account our sheer excitement to see The Fahy back onstage, after loving her so much in Next to Normal. (We also knew that we'd have gone to see the show even if it hadn't included her. Because that would have *maybe* meant our girl Laura Osnes in the title role. Guh.) But in all seriousness, we could not be bigger fans of anything than Kerrigan-Lowdermilk's writing, and that's where our greatest excitement and curiosity stemmed from. We didn't really know anything about the characters in the show, and couldn't wait to learn more about them.

Photo thanks to Goodspeed's Facebook page!
Ultimately, I think that the show's staying power is really what took us by surprise. Sam Brown was not just a fun, cutesy show that we enjoyed and promptly forgot about. The title character, played by Ms. Fahy, is a high school senior, with a loving parents (Catherine Porter and Stephen Bogardus), a boyfriend, Adam (Andrew Durand), and a best friend, Kelly (Melissa Benoist) who's a year older than Sam, embedded in the honeymoon phase of college freedom, and ready to give Sam mountains of advice on how to approach her upcoming freshman year. Although she is clearly an intelligent girl with a bright future ahead of her, Sam's parents seem to be more enthusiastic about their daughter's upcoming graduation than Sam herself. Thus begins the audience's journey of watching Sam navigate a transitory time in her life, and discovering that something about Kelly's presence in Sam's life is not quite right.

The structure created by Kerrigan and Lowdermilk is the perfect combination of songs with a more narrative function, and songs that have a definitive beginning and end. At an intermission-less hour and a half, we're curious to know if the show was trimmed down or added to for this production, or if a two-act version of the show was ever considered. And speaking of songs, Hillary and I were pretty much walking on air from the time we took our seats in the theater, because, well, an hour and a half of  Kerrigan-Lowdermilk songs that we'd never heard before? Come on. The show's score was so undeniably THEM, in that the music and lyrics were mostly very simple but so layered, clever, and insightful. Hearing the many musical themes that recurred throughout the show was what made us realize that these two people wrote a SHOW, not just a collection of gorgeous songs. I still find myself floored when I think about "Freedom" in the context of the show - Sam begins the song in a very dampened mood, which was always apparent from the demo recording of the song, but seeing the show and having the foresight that Sam's relationship with Kelly will change forever after this roadtrip together is a total revelation. The only slight hesitation we had about any part of the score concerns "I Wouldn't Change Anything," sung by Sam's parents. In a moment where Sam steps back from her storytelling to consider what would happen if she could go back in time and ignore a life-altering phone call, it felt a little out-of-the-moment to me to focus on her parents' point of view. With that said, we trust the writers' creative decisions completely, and felt our connection to Sam's parents return with Sam's eventual acknowledgment that she couldn't change or ignore the past.

As you've probably gathered by now, there's a big reveal in the middle of the show that we just can't bring ourselves to give away. We're positive that Sam Brown will continue onward and upward after its successful run in Connecticut, and want to give you another reason (as if you needed another one) to go see it when it does! So, our last comment on the subject will be this: we know you could sing "Run Away With Me" in your sleep. We know you wish you could belt "Freedom" as fiercely as Annaleigh Ashford and Meghann Fahy. These songs, plus a few others, have been in the blog- and concert- spheres FOREVER, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, and yet Kerrigan and Lowdermilk managed to avoid revealing this big secret, or even hinting at it. Mad props to you, Kait and Brian. It makes us wonder if performers who've sung these songs in the context of a concert were briefed about the show, because knowing the reveal makes a huuugeeee difference in the way any character approaches Sam.

As expected, the production was perfectly cast. It was truly awesome to watch Ms. Fahy grow onstage as she gains experience and learns how to use her voice differently. "Remember This" is basically our lives in a nutshell, and her delivery of it was spot-on. She IS the youthful maturity that defines Sam, and we wish we could have returned to the show later in its run to see her progression with the character. Mr. Durand proved the biggest pleasant surprise for us, playing Adam with the perfect balance of funny, dorky, and sweet, with a GREAT voice that I'd forgotten about since I saw him in Spring Awakening several years ago. (For shame, Michelle...for SHAME!) Our ongoing love of all things Next to Normal gave special significance to seeing Ms. Porter as Mom. She. Was. Hilarious. From impersonating Celine Dion, to flinging cookies into the front row, to bringing a whole new level of uncomfortableness to "Do you need to go into the CVS for something?" Porter played up an awareness of the outrageousness of Mom while still remaining sensitive and vulnerable as a mother who just wants the best for her daughter. As Dad, Mr. Bogardus was great as well, although his character had the least to do. I kind of wish they could have expanded a bit more on his relationship with Sam, although I tend to be biased towards father-daughter storylines. And Ms. Benoist as Kelly brought the right amount of sass to make the character loveable and relatable instead of obnoxious.

I wish we could conclude this post with demanding instructions to go see The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown immediately. Sadly, the show's month-long run is long ended, and its future is unclear at this point in time. If you're so inclined, you can stay up-to-date with Kerrigan and Lowdermilk's latest ventures on Facebook and Twitter, and take a glimpse at the remnants of the Goodspeed production on their website. Because it was pretty great. And we would have bought you all tickets to see it if we could have. (Transportation included. Yes, we loved it that much.)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I saw the same show in CT and I think you're over-hyping things quite a bit. I think the show needs a lot of work and though there is a lot of great source material, Sam Brown needs a LOT of rewrites before it should be shown professional anywhere again.

Michelle F. said...

Perhaps what came across in our post was our enthusiasm for the show that existed as we saw it, but we are equally as enthusiastic for how it's undoubtedly going to change - the material that's already there as well as the direction and potential it has. We saw Sam Brown less than a week into its run, and if time and distance had permitted, we'd have loved to have gone back and seen how things changed after just a few weeks of work, let alone all the changes that will likely be made before it gets another run somewhere else. We also believe that artists like Kerrigan and Lowdermilk are open and honest about flaws in their work themselves.

An additional thought that came to mind while digesting your comment: Hillary and I don't believe that any show is "perfect" - that the evolution of the creative process never really ends - and that's one of the things we love most about theater!

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