A wild drama teacher inspires local youth.
Wed Sep 2 2009
Photograph: Shannan Denlinger
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
She named her company Genesius, after the patron saint of actors, but community-theater impresario Jane Simmon Miller was divine in a style all her own. In this new musical about her too-brief life, Jane is a tart-tongued, chain-smoking, sex-loving redhead with false eyelashes and a penchant for gold lam; played with blazing finesse by Beth Glover, she’s part Maria von Trapp and part Tallulah Bankhead. In 1971, the unhappily married 40-year-old launches a theater for teenagers in Reading, Pennsylvania, with a musical director (a charming Gardner) who is 16 years her junior—and also her lover. Jane’s unflagging energy and knack for making misfit kids feel important help her theater thrive, despite community problems, even beyond her untimely death.
The creators’ affection for their subject is palpable. Composer-lyricist Michael O’Flaherty was Jane’s real-life collaborator, and book writer LJ Fecho, Genesius’s current artistic director, cut his teeth there as a youth. O’Flaherty has a talent for old-school show tunes (even if they sound like Jerry Herman lite), and Fecho brings warmth and color to his many characters. Yet for all the ground it covers, the action is strangely static; and although William Sanders directs and choreographs his 18-member cast with a sure hand, things get too gosh-darn cutesy at times. Genesius is ultimately more tribute than biography. But when a show so resoundingly captures the unmitigated spunk of teenagers discovering the joys of the stage, it’s hard to resist it entirely.—Diane Snyder