‘Wheels Will Turn’ showed promising work from young local playwrights
The audience was sparse but enthusiastic at Thursday night’s performance of Wheels Will Turn from the Stage B Theatre Company.
As the lights came up in the small black box theatre it also illuminated the faces of those in the crowd, all of which looked like they were giddy with anticipation.
This level of excitement was probably due to the fact that Wheels Will Turn is an original musical, something you don’t see very often in the world of modern musical productions.
The production was written by Kelsey Fehlner with music and lyrics by Samuel Aaron Tolley, both of which had roles in the five person cast. It tells the story of five friends from high school traveling across the country to say goodbye to their dying drama teacher.
However this trip down memory proves to be wrought with unexpected potholes. The writing and music for this show is clearly the work of those who have just begun their venture into the challenging field of playwriting. However it has an undeniable charm in its youthful sensibilities.
Tolley played Logan, the leader of the rag-tag group co-eds, and brought to the stage an extremely powerful singing voice. As the voice that started and ended the show, he explored the high’s and low’s of being around an ex you still feel conflicted with, as the relationships between the travelers was explored along side their heart break over losing a mentor.
The pixie-like Rose was played by Kelsey Fehlner who gave us a great performance as a character that was equal parts vulnerable and strong.
Rose is the glue holding this group together, however she often fails to hold herself together at the same time. With her soft tinkerbell-esque voice, Fehlner gave us a quirky and charming performance.
Sam Jones played Zach, Logan’s ex-boyfriend turned straight frat boy who brought his girlfriend along for the ride. Jones had such a strong voice which made harmonies between Fehlner, Tolley, and himself especially beautiful in songs like “Swim Back To Shore” and “Please, Hughes.”
Playing a gay man who has returned to the closet is no small feat, but Jones pulls it off nicely.
Zach’s oblivious girlfriend, Katie, is played by Nancy Collie-Kent. Collie-Kent has arguably the largest character arc, having to go from vapid sorority girl to vapid sorority girl who is understanding about her boyfriends sexuality. She plays Katie with a humor and kindness not often seen in comic relief characters. Not to mention her strong soprano voice takes you by surprise considering the character-voice she adopts.
All of these factors make Katie a more dynamic character then one might expect when she is first introduced.
Last, but certainly not least, is Teddy, played by Brandon James Johns. Teddy is an old class mate of Logan, Rose, and Zach’s, who just sort of jumps along for the ride. This odd character turns out to be a crucial one.
With John’s unique and beautiful singing voice, along with his ability to play character totally free of insecurities, it’s no wonder that he becomes one of the most beloved members of the ill-fated road trip. Plus John’s performance in his song “The Hat Song” was one of the most enjoyable of the show.
It is my hope that the Stage B Theater Company continues to give chances to local writers and actors.
This unique show was enjoyable and the ability to see young playwrights perform their first attempts is something that the Richmond theater community should certainly welcome.
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