REVIEW: The talents of Kevin Kling and Steve Kramer are delightful, but this new show feels just a bit tame.
When you're 4 years old and a doctor assures you, "Everything is going to be all right," you know there is trouble ahead.
Kevin Kling heard those words when, as a tow-headed little kid, he entered the hospital for an operation on his left arm. For several days, Kling lived within his own anxieties as he waited for surgery and soaked in the surreal atmosphere of a children's ward. Understand that to adults, the ward appears as just a collection of sick kids in a row of beds. But for youngsters, especially at night, this place is as fearful as your imagination will allow.
Kling pulled these memories from the stuffed attic of his mind and let them inform "Oh Mirth and Mischief," which had its premiere Friday night at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul. His stories invent heroes, villains, adventures and dreamy fairy tales -- the mythology that helps humans deal with crisis. Kling recalls buddies trying to sneak out of the hospital, only to be netted by a nurse; back in the ward, he longs to be a hero and targets another patient, Prince Charmin, as his villain. Kling attacks, and then discovers to his regret that he is the villain.
Composer Steve Kramer, former frontman for the Wallets, has written nine songs that weave throughout the show. Singers James Diers of the band Halloween, Alaska, and Haley Bonar carry the lyrics in addition to playing characters in Kling's stories. Aby Wolf and Jennifer Armour each get one song to sing and their performances are worth mentioning. Guitarist Jacob Hanson stands out in seven-piece band.
"Of Mirth and Mischief," which was directed by Peter Rothstein, feels like an experiment that needs a stronger chemical reaction. It's a bit too clean and well-ordered.
Consider that it is great to hear Kramer's music again, with those little echoes of the Wallets and other stuff that evokes comparisons to the sweet pop hooks of Dean and Britta. "Nighty Night to Brother" is an absolute ear worm, and Armour's vocal on "At the Hospital" has the perfect tone. And consider that Kling's stories are just what you'd expect -- rangy and raffish tales that create their own universe.
But we long for more synergy. Kling tells a story and then the band performs a song, with Kramer essentially a sideman.
Some of our frustration undoubtedly stems from expectations. Kramer has not been on stage for nearly 20 years, and the Friday night audience wanted to see that old charismatic self bust out spontaneously. But with few exceptions, he is quiet as a church mouse. This makes sense dramatically, putting the focus on Kling's stories. But for all the mirth, we itch for a little mischief.
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299