By Nyla Arslanian
Following the rousing opening number "Lift It Up," fine voices, and choreography,
The Singing Revolution took off for Estonia, a little known nation formerly included in the Soviet Union. This small Baltic country of 1.3 million was the first country to declare its independence from the USSR.
All of which this reviewer was totally unaware prior to the show but that resulted in a Googling expedition following the revelation provided by this ambitious and thoroughly entertaining production.
Most people don't think about singing when they think about revolutions. But song was the weapon of choice when, between 1986 and 1991, Estonians sought to free themselves from decades of Soviet occupation. During those years, hundreds of thousands gathered in public to sing forbidden patriotic songs and to rally for independence.
Director/Originator Tony Spinosa deftly directed the action and many scene changes as the story of hardship and persecution of the Estonians evolved. Centering on the Estonian Tamm family and Russian Solokovs, a classic boy meets girl romance ensues within the complexity of an occupied nation.
Noteworthy was the performance of Renee Wylder, as Taavi Taam's mother as her she sang "Never Forget Who You are," a number that would recur in Act 2. Her voice was a standout, but not because it was necessarily better than others in this extremely even and excellent cast.
Choreography by Tracey Benson deserves mention as does the entire dance ensemble. The stage at the Broadwater easily accommodated the 9-member ensemble plus the eleven principals who also danced.
The songs were lovely and while dubbed Europop were lyrical and memorable--something that's a good sign for any musical. Kudos as well to the band and music direction by Brent Crayon with excellent sound and balance complimenting the production.
There were some light comic moments with the "ghosts" of Lenin and Stalin influencing Gorbachev. The Broadwater Theatre being part of more than 100 year old complex that was once the Buster Keaton Studio, the shtick seemed appropriate for the location.
As mentioned, your reviewer was unaware of the history of Estonia (how many are?) and at times found the story a bit hard to follow. This play isn't Les Miserable but has all the qualities to make it so. The story is inspiring and more recent in time than the French Revolution. Also, now that eyes are on the Ukraine, also a former member of the USSR, it's more relevant to the times.
Sadly, the short run ends February 20, and there are only a few performances left to take a trip to Estonia. Thanks to Google, here's a taste (vocalist is not a cast member):