On February 4, 2022, after some time sequestering because of Covid, Dreamtone Productions in Association with NewYorkRep, presented “Singing Revolution: the Musical” at Hollywood’s Broadwater Theatre. Director, Tony Spinosa’s Concept and Music, and Spinosa and James Bearhart’s Book and Lyrics hoped to use its Musicals’ namesake, The Singing Revolution, as a powerful historical backdrop for the tale of “star-crossed lovers.”

In an impossible pairing of a young Estonian musician, Taavi Tamm, played by James Everts, who falls in love with Sofia Solokov (Bella Hicks), the daughter of the Russian Occupying Force Commander. With multiple songs, thin story line and confusing plot points, both efforted to give color to a nearly three hour performance, replete with over-energized and implausible musical jazz dance numbers. Hicks, however, was committed and believable in her role with a strong vocal facility and interpretation, and at times quite readily moved the audience. In the second act, Hicks, energy waning, began to push vocally, which over the loud sound system became shrill and not quite pitch perfect.

"Singing Revolution" - James Everts and Ensemble - Photo by Jenny Graham

“Singing Revolution” – James Everts and Ensemble – Photo by Jenny Graham

The budding revolutionary, played by Everts, presented the young Tamm with less than “fire in the belly.”  Perhaps Everts characterization may have benefited from observing the charismatic Mario Savio, the leader of the Free Speech Movement of the 60’s, whose clear-eyed mission was electric with virile vigor and intelligence, and therefore irresistible as a leader of a revolution. Lamentably this kind of charisma or vocal commitment never truly appeared.

The Music written by Spinosa and Lyrics by Bearhart ran out of ideas early on. With its unchanged tempos and forgettable words, it delivered an unmemorable message throughout.

"Singing Revolution" - Michael Scott Harris, Bella Hicks and Ensemble - Photo by Jenny Graham

“Singing Revolution” – Michael Scott Harris, Bella Hicks and Ensemble – Photo by Jenny Graham

Most ill-fated was the remarkable theme, the inspirational Estonian Singing Revolution, a piece of history not well known to the average person. This theatrical piece, by the title, promised to shed light on the Estonian people and their fight for independence. As a piece of insight, after 200 years of enduring czarist Russian rule, and surviving World War I, they declared themselves the Republic of Estonia in 1918. They adopted a European-style democratic government with a growing economy. However, Estonia was flanked by Russia and Nazi Germany. Even so, they miraculously managed to survive WWII, unscathed. Once again they were occupied by Russia (USSR) for the next 50 years.

Estonian people during the peaceful Singing Revolution. - Photo by Eerik-Niiles Kross. The Baltic Chain - Photo courtesy of Museum of the Popular Front Tallinn, Estonia
Estonian people during the peaceful Singing Revolution - Photo by Eerik Niiles Kross

The “Singing Revolution: The Musical” somehow left the audience to sew together this powerful and interesting plot point. Unexplained and upstaged by the Montague/Capulet story that used the revolution only as a backdrop, thinly eluded to Estonia’s brave, disciplined and courageous people who resisted the demise by creating a human chain through Talliinn, Estonia; Riga, Latvia and Vilnius, Lithuania. And because of this bravery, they prevented the takeover of Estonia’s legislature by standing as a human shield and singing whilst marching the Russians out of town. Within that powerful and inspiring subtext, this piece fails to guide the promise of its title.

However, from the response at points, there are definitely some elements that delight the audience. The cast of wonderful, seasoned performers, Michael Scott Harris’ is a powerful presence with strong vocal interpretations as the deceitful, yet charming, Russian Commandant and father of Sofia the ingénue lead. In his role he attempts to control, destroy and disappear not only the people of the town of Tallinn, but the life of his own daughter, Sofia,

"Singing Revolution" - James Everts, Bella Hicks and Ensemble - Photo by Jenny Graham

“Singing Revolution” – James Everts, Bella Hicks and Ensemble – Photo by Jenny Graham

The villains of the evening, Anthony Marciona as the Ghost of Vladimir Lenin, Peter Van Norden, playing Mikhail Gorbachev,  and Thomas Hollow, (alternate for Adam Wylie), playing Stalin (sans moustache) are such pros that they delight the audience in their own evil mischievousness as the treacherous Russian leaders of the past. They light up the stage and delight the audience with their physical comedy, singing and dancing. One of their show-stoppers is when Lenin and Stalin fasten puppet strings to Gorbechev, a wonderfully cheeky moment as they do a kind of maypole dance around him.

Viktor Kuznetsov played by Lucas Alifano, is endearing as is Leena Rebane played by Krista Feallock. He a Russian and she an Estonian, slowly unfold their commitment and conflicts in an occupied state.

"Singing Revolution" - Peter Van Norden and Ensemble - Photo by Jenny Graham

“Singing Revolution” – Peter Van Norden and Ensemble – Photo by Jenny Graham

The Choreography by Tracey Benson had some moments that worked. However, often it was unclear why the dancers were doing full on jazz numbers during an Occupation. They were often overly choreographed, overly energized, not in the period, quite inappropriate to this show and brought little purpose of the story to light. Also, inserted in the second act was a Dream Ballet representing Taavi and Sofia’s conflict. It was performed by Marissa Ruth Mayer and Brandon Keith Rogers and only served to confuse the audience who questioned who they were and why they were there.

This is such a powerful story that it should not be disregarded or disappeared for a Broadway dance number or story of star-crossed lovers but respectfully woven and integrated within potent music, story, and effective stage movement, to reflect this moving “peaceful revolution.”  If not, there is hardly any reason to use the subject, “The Singing Revolution.”

“Singing Revolution: The Musical” continues playing at the Broadwater Theatre through November 20, 2022.  To purchase tickets, click HERE.

For more information about the Broadwater Theatre, please visit their website.

Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Singing Revolution – James Everts and Ensemble – Photo by Jenny Graham