BEYOND PERFECTIONBook by Kenady Shope
Music and Lyrics by Kenady shope, Emily Horton, Gabriel Ethridge, Ethan Sartor, Uriah Rinzel, Charles Wooldridge, Aurel Baker, Anna Mitchell, Joey Goodale, McCaul Ragland, Madeline Smith, Sandi Pogue, Kaitlyn Kohler, Graze Fazand
Director: Kenady Shope
Music Director: Michael Childs
Choreographer: Kenady Shope
Stage Manager: Harper Hadley
Set Designer: Wendy Rene’e Searcy
Lighting Designer: Cassondra Plybon-Harbin
Chandler: Kaylee Killingsworth
Ainsley: Rebecca Luby
Aiden: Antonio Demonde Thomas
Brock: Andres Reyes
Kate: Nancy Lopez
Madame President: Margaret Vogel
Fenir: Michael Breath, Jr.
Cleo: Marissa Pyron Rico
Ryan: Matthew Martinez
Ensemble: Scarlett O’Hare, Bryan Smith, Candace Alexander, Charlie Anthony, Katelyn Anderson, Lakeia Smith, Sofia Warren, William Tennet Cheek, Wyatt Williamson
Reviewed Performance: 6/15/2019
Reviewed by Holly Reed, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Her new original dystopian musical, Beyond Perfection, feels like a combination of The Hunger Games and the musical Rent.
It is the year 2036. After a civil war in the United States, each state has become its own country. New York, the empire, has issued mandatory “2020 glasses” which allow all citizens to live in their own ideal virtual reality. A confused and naïve Chandler comes to New York running from her past, while the brave and determined Aiden comes seeking a bright future. They soon realize that the glasses are not helping them succeed. It is in Central Park, a deserted paradise where the glasses do not work, that Chandler, Aiden, and the rest of the rebels find exactly what they are looking for: love, community, a sense of purpose, and hope for the future.
By far, the most successful musicals to make it to Broadway and beyond are adaptations of previous works of literature. That’s because a solid original story is one of the most difficult things to get right. In a musical adaptation, the hard work has been done for you: the story arc, the character development, the basic sense of structure. In addition, the original work, be it a poem, a novel, a film, or a life, has already been imprinted on society and established a common knowledge and reference point to its existence. The composer, lyricist, and bookwriter now has the advantage of building on a solid foundation.
Therefore, original musicals are a beast to write. So bravo to Kenady for stepping up to the challenge.
I was intrigued by the concept of Beyond Perfection. Very few dystopian plays and musicals exist, so this is a great genre to explore when creating something new. The story was set up well in the first Act with a strong set of stakes for the main character Chandler and a couple of interesting subplots. I was curious where it was going and how it would resolve. Act 2 became more fragmented. I could see where it was intending to go, but the subplots and secondary characters began to muddy the waters and confuse the main story. However, the Playbill stated that this show has only been in development for two years. The Broadway behemoth Hamilton took over 10 years for Lin Manuel Miranda to write and perfect. Beyond Perfection has potential. The spark of creation is there. There is a unique, interesting, and important foundational throughline to the show, but it will take some refining to cut away the fat and let the single, pure story shine through. It will take time, but I am excited to say that I believe it will be worth it. I hope Kenady has a continued openness to refining and reworking, because that’s what it takes to push a show from good to great.
Although Beyond Perfection was written by a young team of over 14 collaborators, the score feels cohesive. It does vary stylistically, but some of that is intentional. The “government” vibe is very Hamilton-esque with heavy rap sequences and historical narratives. These songs, such as “Prologue” and especially “Warning” might be a little too similar to Hamilton in theme and lyric. The “rebels” songs are more modern musical theatre styled, very much along the lines of Rent. Beyond Perfection has several very strong musical moments. I especially enjoyed the songs “New York Bound” and “Finally in Focus.” The vocals, both solo and ensemble, are all very well-arranged. There are some nice acapella sections as well as powerful opportunities for the lead vocals to shine.
The cast of Beyond Perfection was brilliant. Even where story elements were confusing, the actors pulled off stunning performances.
Kaylee Killingsworth (Chandler) is a powerhouse both vocally and in on-stage charisma. If she was on stage, I had to force myself to ever take my eyes off of her. Her character was definitely the one to watch (and in future rewrites should be elevated even more), and Kaylee’s personality reinforced that. She is vocally adept and handles multiple belting sequences with strength and ease.
Chandler’s challenge-turned-love-interest Aiden was played by gentle giant Antonio Thomas, who delivered a strong, consistent performance. His ballads “Somewhere is a Place I Want to Be” and “Strangely Familiar” were sweet and solid, which reflected the majority of his character traits. I didn’t feel the urgency with Aiden’s character the way I felt it with Chandler’s, but that is possibly by design. However, their photos on the cover of the Playbill told me they were equally important, so I kept feeling like I wanted higher stakes for Aiden’s character. He was too consistent. I needed to feel like he had something to lose in the same way that Chandler did. Nevertheless, Antonio carried the part with excellence.
While I feel like many other characters could be merged or altogether eliminated in future development, the actors who portrayed them infused the story with personality and depth. The pairing of Kate and Ryan (Nancy Lopez and Matthew Martinez) was strong, and I really felt their presence (and subplot) was essential to the show. Nancy Lopez was always precise and poignant when she sang and was very effective in capturing our heart and sympathy. I was most able to feel the injustice of the 2020 glasses with her character and situation. Although it occurred later in the show, the issues with their family seemed to be the “inciting incident” that could have been introduced sooner and really catapulted the conflict early on.
While Rebecca Luby (Ainsley) and Andres Reyes (Brock) delivered excellent performances, I felt their characters involvement in the story seemed auxiliary and forced. There were significant plot pieces that they were responsible for serving up, but I kept feeling like those choices might could have fallen on other primary characters to tighten up the story.
Margaret Vogel (Madame President) and Michael Breath, Jr. (Fenir) believably brought the evil Empire to life. They both had tall orders in delivering lightning-fast lyric runs and got through them without missing a beat, although they were often too fast to understand.
On most accounts, the technical pieces of Beyond Perfection were strong. The visual differences between the Rebels and the Empire were reinforced with intentional and consistent costume choices as well as stylistic variations in choreography. The set and lighting were simple yet effective. However, scene locations were enhanced by projected backdrops which at times were slightly overdone and distracting.
The music is performed with tracks, and it would have been nice to have live musicians present. The sound balance is hard to get right when using a track and miked voices, and you lose the freedom to pulse the music as needed for emotional effect. The acapella sections were refreshing, as was the “drum song” performance (although it needed a better reason to exist besides just cool factor).
With some continued rewriting and refinement, Beyond Perfection will move forward—possibly VERY forward! Come see this show in its youth and catch a glimpse of its future. Then one day when it’s on the big stage, you can say you knew it when it was a sparkle in Kenady’s eyes.
Playing June 14-16 and 20-23, 2019
at the LifeStage Theatre
3105 Ira E Woods, Grapevine, TX 76051
Tickets range from $25 to $30.
Tickets may be purchased online at www.beyondperfectionthemusical.com/tickets.