I have to first begin by saying to both teams how incredibly impressed I am at what you were able to accomplish. You all channeled your talents, interests, skills, commitment, and spirit into an ORIGINAL MUSICAL THEATRE PRODUCTION!! That is no small feat! From the moment I entered the space, I was moved by the excitement in the air and the support and enthusiasm you all shared for one another, not to mention the respect and good sportsmanship between the two teams! I was truly honored to be part of this event. Thank you for sharing your creative work. What a fun and amazing night!
In The Ballad of the Mississippi River, the Gold Team dove into classic American Folklore and explored what it means to blaze a new frontier. The scenic design had some really successful moments. I admit I was concerned by the almost too sparce opening sequence, but the detail of the train, saloon, and Paul’s Cabin eased my worry! These visuals were well designed, inviting, and visually appealing!
Lighting had some lovely moments as well, and the use of color, backlight, and silhouette were particularly effective. Nice use of this effect as final buttons at the end of songs and scenes. Sometimes the quick shifts of color to reflect emotion was a little jarring and became predictable, but overall, the lighting worked well with the blocking to create some nice and memorable stage pictures. Unfortunately, the costume design of the show had me confused in certain moments, often because the visuals were not cohesive. The spare opening scene made it difficult to place, and because the costumes seemed to represent a variety of styles, eras, and silhouettes, at times I found myself trying to catch up with where the story was going and what was being represented. This was especially true of the three narrator roles, whose costumes each seemed to represent a different era in time. If this costuming choice was deliberate, it was not supported by the rest of the story.
The lead roles in this show were perfectly cast! Without a doubt, the creative team of Directors, Lyrists, and Composers understood the vocal talents of their cast and put them on full and impressive display! Featuring so many wonderful singers in individual moments really allowed each one to shine, all brilliantly supported by a truly skillful pianist! Tyson Evans, Stephen Haymon, and Javen Radney all deserve a major shout-out for their power-house vocals and committed, emotional musical storytelling. This show seemed to pay homage to a variety of Musical Theatre favorites, from “He’ll Know My Name,” with its Gaston-like essence, to “Babe’s Burlesque” evoking a little bit of Lola from Damn Yankees! The Evans/Lyles duet on the train was a major highlight of the show, channeling Hamilton in both musical style and historical characterization. Overall, Scene 2 was an achievement for Directors, Actors, and Designers. The lyrics and vocal arrangement complimented the characters well, although I would recommend revisiting the titles of some of these numbers, as they don’t seem to clearly relate to the content and lyrics of the pieces; “Danger” and “Help Song” are two examples.
Choreography was tight and so much fun to watch! There was a nice balance of bigger, more complicated group numbers with the simplicity and stillness of a powerful ballad. This shows a successful collaboration between Directors and Choreographers who both understand the needs of the show and how best to help the characters tell their stories and support the singers when then need it most. Sometimes simple is best. On the flipside, one number that felt lacking in focused choreography was “Babe’s Burlesque,” whose title indicates a specific kind of dance and performance style that didn’t really deliver. With such a great costume/make-up design for Babe the Blue, not to mention lovely acting work from Delaney Evans, it would have been nice to support that moment with more dynamic, character-driven choreography.
The acting was strong and committed, and I could tell how much the actors were invested in the roles they were playing. The sense of power, hope, and momentum from the characters pushed the story forward at a solid and steady pace. However, the script, and by extension some of the characterization, were often inconsistent, and some jokes were lost due to forced or sloppy delivery. The pacing can feel choppy and laughs get lost when the audience cannot clearly understand the set-up of a joke. This happened several times with Wild Bill Hitchcock and Calamity Jane, as well as with the three narrators, where the character voices, mannerisms, and quick, unmotivated switches of emotion overpowered the dialogue and the sense of the line was lost. The play almost felt like it changed genres midway through the show. With the depth of conflict that was introduced with the John Henry character, I was onboard to follow the drama of his storyline, but then it felt like it shifted more to slapstick. My final critique of the script was the abrupt resolution, which felt rushed and too easy. After rooting for the triumph of John Henry and his place in history, ending the show with a quick “I don’t remember the rest” felt dismissive and anticlimactic.
However, the final scene of the play was a redemption, and a great way to not only tie the characters together and reinforce their historical significance, but to also revisit the namesake song of the production, which was catchy and well done. I admit, I was humming it all the way home! Congratulations, Gold Team
Thank you for sharing your artistry through your production of The Ballad of the Mississippi River. Your commitment, energy and sense of community was contagious. The following comments are provided as an overall assessment of what I experienced.
- Incorporated the tall tales throughout, enjoyed the mix of historical characters with folklore characters
- Story was easy to follow, could follow the plot all along and was never confused
- Great to use the three storytellers to move the story along
- Enjoyed the use of puns
- Told the story and had nice flow
- Very memorable tunes
- Themes went nicely with the storyline and style
- The piano at the top of show was fantastic
- Strong sense of tableau work – use of silhouette was effective and not over used
- Perhaps could be held just a bit longer especially the opening look as we explore characters through the gestures chosen
- Strong storytelling, always knew what was going on through the blocking
- Continue to work on character distinction
- Consider looking at some enter/exits as these would happen in the same lane on the same side of stage
- There were a few moments of stillness that were highly effective. Continue to look for places to use this element
- Nice use of levels, diagonals, space and mass
- Strong sense of tableau work – use of silhouette was effective and not over used
- Exceptional artistry
- The tap number was a delight
- Creative, strong ensemble work
- Nice modern mix of styles that worked
- Stage combat was appropriate and well-rehearsed
- Character development was strong provided through gestures and vocal interpretation. Actors were committed from the very first moment
- At times were hard to understand due to rate of speech – take time especially on important moments, some articulation issues
- In silhouette moments find strong gesture every time
- Ensemble continued to tell story in the upstage action, which was effective
- Continue to work to create strong character choices
- Overall strong voice
- Some intonation issues
- Strong soloists
- Very strong and very enjoyable to watch
- The tap number was terrific
- Ensemble moved well together and there was nothing that stood out
- Volume was appropriate and did not take over
- Instruments were well performed
- Good timing
- Told the story of the character – easy to identify each, fit the theme
- Some seemed to be incomplete and did not tell the story of the character
- Great use of space
- Understood locations
- Nice use of levels – table, chairs, bar
- Would like to have seen something for the Railyard…
- Hair & Makeup
- Appropriate for each character
- Similar to costumes, some characters were undefined
- Great creative of props – fit the theme nicely
- Loved the cow hide in Paul’s cabin!
- The props in the saloon were plentiful and appropriate
- The handheld props were well made – John Henry’s hammer, Paul Bunyan’s ax
- Great use of fabric for the river
- Lighting Design
- Love the use of the silhouette – very effective
- Good use of color on cyc
- Consider adding more face light – at times hard to see the actor
- Smooth transition with lights
- Effective “button” moments – blackouts not overused and did not slow the storytelling
- Strong transitions that kept the story moving forward
- No wasted time
- Overall Effect of Production
- Thoroughly enjoyable and memorable
- Would love to see it again!
Coming back from intermission, the anticipation for another production full of heart and soul was high and the Golds did not disappoint. From the single piano overture to the rollicking full company finale The Ballad of the Mississippi River was a smart and charming modernized folk tale that could easily find a life beyond its origins in Montevallo’s College Night. The script was full of recognizable but still endearing stock characters going through familiar challenges, however the creative team did a wonderful job of updating and intertwining a folk mythology for modern day audiences. The thematic idea of the consequences that come from needing others to know our names and our deeds was well developed and offered a satisfying thematic arc from beginning to end. While relationship and reality of the three narrators could have been clearer textually the performers did not let that challenge hinder their acting choices. The lyrics supported the development of principal characters and each particular style further defined each of the characters as individuals. The score sampled a diverse range of musical styles that audiences today especially appreciate. The composers matched the songs to voices very well. Some of those high notes appeared to be obviously and specifically high. Though it was immediately clear that we had the hat tipped to Hamilton’s hip hop patter, the rich baritone of a Disney villain, the romantic R&B ballad or even the pop rock trio of narrating sirens, each of the styles paid off in anchoring the audience in who these characters were and how they were contributing to the story. The staging was sharp and smart in visual storytelling, supporting the dialogue with the use of silhouette, levels, depth and texture in the stage picture with frequently changing groups in multiple locations. The choreography also incorporated a wide variety of dance styles and one would guess was specific to the talents of individual dancers. The choreography also accomplished complex multiple visual storylines with individual actions contrasting ensemble movement correlating to either location, character or the plot point. The actors took advantage of their clear character profiles and conflicts, so much so that it is hard to pull out individual standout performances. The vocal technique and talent of the chorus and the soloists was impressive. One not so positive observation was a tendency for overzealous singing causing some minor vocal cracks during sustained notes. Adrenaline makes this technique possible for a limited run but it wouldn’t be sustainable in a professional production of eight shows a week. The dancing included excellent individual performances and synchronized ensemble numbers over a variety of styles and formations. The execution of the score was balanced with a variety of dynamics and instrumentation. The versatile yet minimalist scenic design was elegant at times or appropriately folksy in others and seamlessly transported the story from location to location to location including the Mississippi River at the end – which was not as clear in the story as it probably should have been as to how or why we arrived there all of a sudden since it was the title of the show. Other than a false start at the very beginning, the run of the show appeared to go cleanly and never distracted from the action at hand. The props were relevant and fit with the visual style. The lighting design combined with the silhouette of set and bodies offered visual moments of spectacle during transitions as well as climactic moments within a scene or musical number. The costumes were simple yet fitting for the theme and the world of the play. They also allowed for the choreographic demands of movement. The hair and makeup supported the characters without pulling focus from the storyline. Overall The Ballad of the Mississippi River was an enjoyable tale and made a satisfying conclusion to the College Night experience.