A teenager has an argument with her father. Later in the day, he leaves an apologetic voice message. The girl ignores the call and soon thereafter loses her chance to make amends when dad dies in a car crash. How the girl processes the guilt and grief of this life-changing event are at the heart of the musical “Life After,” receiving its U.S. premiere at The Old Globe.
There is an array of impressive talents on display in this production; many are Broadway veterans. Holding her own is 27-year-old Canadian playwright Britta Johnson, who wrote the book, music and lyrics. Hers is a budding career worth following.
The set up for the story is Frank Carter (Bradley Dean), a successful author and motivational speaker more often on the road than home, making a surprise visit to daughter Alice (Sophie Hearn) on her 16th birthday. He’s taken aback and becomes defensive when Alice refuses to immediately clear her calendar to spend time with him. Alice is angry and hurt that Frank assumes she would do so simply because he dropped in like a visitor instead of the head of a family.
Expected and unexpected reactions to Frank’s untimely death by Alice, older sister Kate (Charlotte Maltby), mom Beth (Mamie Parris) and a beloved teacher Ms. Hopkins (Dan’yelle Williamson) reveal there is more going on here besides teenage angst and distracted parenting.
Initial songs neatly summarize the plot outline: “Frank’s Message,” “Alice Finds Out,” “The Funeral,” “If I Knew,” “Control What You Can.” These staccato titles mirror straightforward songwriting focused on the raw pain of so devastating a blow. As the story line deepens, so, too, do the lyrics of concluding melodies. The soaring vocals of Mamie Parris delivers a knock-out punch with the showstopper “Wallpaper.”
Providing much appreciated comic relief as well as strategic dialog that ties story elements together is Alice’s geeky, lovable friend Hannah (Livvy Marcus in an engaging, exuberant performance).
Throughout the story a chorus of three Furies (Ximone Rose, Mackenzie Warren, Charlotte Mary Wren) serve not only as Alice’s inner voices but also morph into supporting characters such as funeral guests who hog all the pastries.
Globe artistic leader Barry Edelstein directs. Music supervision, arrangement and orchestration exquisitely done by Lynne Shankel. Choreography by Ann Yee. Costume design by Linda Cho. Sound design by Ken Travis.
The ingenious set design by Neil Patel has the cast engage with as well as escort facile, moveable frames around the otherwise bare stage. Stretched with light-diffusing fabric, the frames serve as stark projection surfaces or dream-like, translucent memory portals depending on whether front- or back-lit by lighting designer Japhy Weideman. The interplay is nothing short of marvelous.
By Lynne Friedmann