Penny-4-Eyes Rock n' Roll Show
nytheatre.com review by Ross Peabody
July 22, 2005
There’s little that I appreciate more than the rare occasion of walking into a room and having the cynical side of myself take a sound drubbing at the hands of the side of me that likes puppy dogs and daisies. Penny 4-Eyes Rock N' Roll Show supplies just such an occasion. Sound silly? I challenge you to go see Penny. If you walk out of this show feeling anything but fantastic, then we can talk.
Loosely based on the childhood experiences of writer/director/producer Jesse Cooper and his sister, costume designer Caitlin, Penny 4-Eyes is about an ambitious 14-year-old girl desperate to escape her abusive parents in order to find a brighter future. Presented as a therapy session on a rock and roll stage, we see Penny’s experience unfold, from abused and angry child to hopeful young woman.
Sound hokey? It is. Sound contrived? It is. Gimmicky? Yes. Sleekly manufactured? Absolutely. All of that pales in comparison to the pure and contagious joy that this wildly talented cast brings to the stage.
Front and center is teenager Christiana Anbri as Penny. Five feet and 80 pounds of pure star, Anbri manages to be both the lead singer of a five- piece rock band twice her age and a little girl having the most fun ever on stage. The play rests well on her small but able shoulders. Lucia Giannetta, playing Penny’s abusive and neglectful mother, has a powerhouse voice, part gospel, part '80s rock star screamer, that blows the roof off the place. Lady Altovise, as the therapist, brings the soul, musically and dramatically, coupling a rich deep voice with the “never let the world beat you down” message of the play. These two, along with the band supporting them, have an air that they spend their time away from Penny 4-Eyes doing much cooler things than this, but they’re here, out of what seems like pure pleasure and the love of the show.
Admittedly, this isn’t the artistic heir to Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Jesse Cooper’s songs are by-the-books and his script tends to spend more time on exposition than storytelling. His direction, however, is clean and skillful, allowing the performers to inhabit a space all their own with smooth precision.
The play, though, really is about the girls: Penny and her “echoes.” Teenage backup singers Sasha Toro and Vachelle Gil sing and move with the confidence and talent of women twice their age. When they’re playing on stage with Penny near the end of the hour-long show, you see three very talented young ladies just having the time of their lives.
Overblown and big and colorful, Caitlin Cooper’s costumes give the show just the right tone. The same can be said for Jesse Cooper‘s set, embodying all of the elements of a teenage girl’s room and a rock club at the same time. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to grab a drink, or break into a diary.
This show is specifically designed to create the reaction in an audience that it created in me. It’s obvious, and unapologetic about it; it’s sleek and market oriented, but the positive energy that it creates is the real thing. Add to that that a portion of ticket sales is donated to the Penny Lane Charitable Organization for abused and battered children, and you can’t find a better (dare I say it?) feel-good experience this summer.