What began as a series of writings in response to losing a loved one has been developed by lyricist Mark Halpin, composer Andrew Smithson and director Richard Hess into what might be one of the high points of this year’s Fringe Festival. The Kid in the Dark is performed by a capable cast of five, which includes Justin Scott Brown, Megan Campanile, Beau Landry, Patrick Martin and Sara Shepherd. While none of them is a vocal powerhouse, their talents are evenly matched and their technique is fine enough to convey the many shades of feeling that sift and shift through the 17 songs that make for a very smart 50-minute set.
However, the standout performance of The Kid in the Dark belongs to Halpin’s lyrics. Each song comes from a well-defined point of view and quickly declares both its ironic take on themes of relationships and loss, while never letting go of the emotions that follow. There is an implicit understanding that everyone involved is there to support Halpin’s lines and, as a result, this is a show you listen to intently for what is said and how.
That challenge is present in the opening number, “Worst Case Scenario,” in which the company asks, when faced with catastrophe, “Who will you be?” Although the issues and questions are serious, Halpin and company give us plenty to laugh about. “The Sum of Us” observes how couples often transpose their feelings for each other to their dogs, and “It’s All Going to End’ details in tango how a jilted lover finds consolation in a series of desserts. Also notable are “Not a Gay Anthem,” which proclaims that “though I’m gay, I’m not political,” and “You Could Do Worse,” a lover’s plea that compares favorably to many well-known Broadway standards.
A song that hits a little closer to the nerve is “A Blank Sheet of Paper,” in which an artist tries to re-create the features of the one he loves, praying ‘Lord, let me render them well.” I also liked “If I’d Only Brought You Flowers,” which wonders if we ever can ever do enough to prove how much we love the people in our lives.
Smithson has composed a series of delightful and engaging melodies that move neatly into minor chords when the moment requires reflection or irony. Director Richard Hess deftly uses a stage bare of everything but his cast and three chairs to efficiently define a series of romantic tensions, as well as moments of regret and revelation. He pairs the actors in alternately straight and gay relationships, suggesting that love and loss are universals that remain blind to gender or preference.
Although the greater part of the evening is devoted to song, the words to “Did You Know” are delivered as a rhyming monologue by Patrick Martin. These few spoken moments tell of a father who is able to remember a trove of Hollywood trivia long after Alzheimer’s has stripped away any memory of his son.
The show ends with the title number, “The Kid in the Dark,” a childhood reminiscence that merges the worlds of theater and life. Because of the magic that takes shape there, it becomes a place we never want to leave. Grade: A
— Nicholas Korn