Winner Take All (A Rock Opera)
nytheatre.com review by Jason S. Grossman
August 12, 2011
Winner Take All has all the pedigree to be an A-list Fringe rock opera with its creative team having extensive Broadway and off-Broadway credits. Not surprisingly it succeeds in providing cheerful entertainment in a nonstop showcase of splendidly gifted musical theatre artists strutting their stuff.
The tone is set immediately that we are in from a fun-filled ride. Thanks to director/choreographer John Carrafa and company, the production fulfills promises to entertain with a parade of memorable songs executed at a finger-snapping pace.
The setup is simple: an untimely death comes between Catie and Ricky, our two star-crossed lovers. From that point we meet a host of colorful characters to challenge and instruct our heroes on the ways of love and the universe. But will our heroes ever be reunited?
One could nitpick about the simple storyline, but being light in story seems to be the point (you can almost see writers Claudia Brevis and Skip Brevis winking at the use of some standard plot devices). But they more than make up for it by penning catchy songs in just about every song style imaginable (rock, reggae, hip-hop, blues and gospel, to name a few). They even incorporate disco and eighties new wave into the mix as the fiendish work of the devil, of course.
The stunning cast scores mightily with the material from the moment Trent Armand Kendall touches the stage as our otherworldly narrator. His magnetic bluesy persona sets the bar high for the production. From the opening moments, the play almost comes across as an unfairly stacked talent show with each successive musical number outdoing the previous one.
Jared Zirilli is solid as Ricky, our young heart-throb lead who is unceremoniously killed in a motorcycle accident at the top of the story. Finding himself in rock and roll heaven, he meets a superbly hip trio of angels played by the immensely talented Jacquelyn Graham, Darren Lorenzo and Kyle Lamar Mitchell. They eagerly aspire to guide our confused, lovesick hero. The trio performs a wide array of musical styles with great ease and lovable wit.
Kat Nejat and Zakiya Young are naughtily sexy and alluring as the devil’s dimwitted assistants. The beautiful Anna Eilinsfeld more than holds her own as Catie. Always innocent and earnest, she cranks up the meter belting her way to heaven and back again.
Particular mention should be given to Brian Charles Rooney who rocked the box springs in a wonderful performance in the musical Bedbugs! in 2008. Here he plays the devil and is simply fantastic. He should not be missed.
Skip Brevis conducts an excellent, ridiculously versatile band which includes himself, Peter Brown, Luca Tozzi and David Moore. Also notable, China Lee’s contemporary costume design is right on target.
Everyone involved in Winner Take All is having a grand time and the feeling is contagious. Seeing this show in this year’s Fringe NYC is a no-brainer. You can do no wrong watching this kind of top notch talent for the price of a ticket.
There is no contest here: Everyone is a winner with the audience scoring the biggest victory.