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From Monteray Herald
Paper Wing's 'O Brother' is rousing entertainment
By C. KEVIN SMITH
It used to be that if a play was really successful it might get turned into a movie, but in recent years that sequence has been reversed.
Some of Broadway's most popular shows — "The Lion King," "Billy Elliott," "The Producers" — had their start as movies, and so it is with Paper Wing Theatre's "A Tribute to 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?'" a theatrical version of the 2000 movie starring George Clooney.
Adapted by director Koly McBride from the original film script by Joel and Ethan Coen, Paper Wing's "O Brother" is a rousing entertainment that follows the movie in treating music not as background filler, but as a major part of the story's design.
Loosely based on Homer's "Odyssey," "O Brother" opens with a row of Mississippi prisoners marking time with pickaxes and sledgehammers while one man (Nicholas Kelly, in fine voice) sings a lament of their incarceration.
Meanwhile, Ulysses Everett McGill (Lj Brewer), Delmar (Matt Hanner) and Pete (Michael Alliman) are fixing to escape.
Everett has hidden $1.2million that he stole from an armored car, but the valley where the money is hidden is going to be flooded in four days for a hydroelectric project.
The trio, inconveniently chained to one another, manage to slip away from the chain gang, and thus begin their adventures across a landscape of Depression-era characters and settings, accompanied by a steady stream of live bluegrass music. (Eric N. Johnson is music director of a pleasant-sounding five-piece band.)
"O Brother" unfolds in a series of scenes, some of which are especially effective.
The three men, now freed of their chains, encounter a congregation on the banks of a river singing the praises of Jesus.
They are diverted from their quest by a trio of seductive sirens (Kaly Mariano, Christina Kulvicki and Mary Eastman), who bewitch the men with some lovely harmonizing.
Later, they come upon a gathering of chanting Ku Klux Klansmen who are about to lynch Tommy Johnson (Drew Davis-Wheeler), a young musician they had met earlier.
In all these scenes, music is wedded with stagecraft, as director McBride ably manages a large cast and keeps the pace flowing.
My favorite moment was the brief scene of the three men tooling down the highway, eating pie to the tune of "I'll Fly Away." You can almost feel the wind in your hair.
The three men find themselves at a radio station, where they call themselves The Soggy Bottom Boys and offer an impromptu performance of "I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow."
The song is a big hit on the radio, and this success comes into play near the end of "O Brother," when the men have arrived at their destination and the true purpose of Everett's quest is revealed.
With so many scene changes and a cast of 40 actors, a few of the characters struggle to be heard.
A blind soothsayer (Brent Hill) offers the men a prophecy at the start of their adventure, but unfortunately from where I was sitting I could not hear it.
There is a subplot involving a gubernatorial re-election campaign that, despite the efforts of the actors, comes off as not very interesting.
One delightful surprise is a scene involving a gaggle of small girls (Ava Rava, Bella Rava, Becky Janicula, Taylor Waltrip and Maris Welch) who display expert comic timing and clearer diction than some of the adults.
But the heart of the show lies in the trio of men on the run. Brewer, Hanner and Alliman are uniformly excellent.
As Pete, Alliman bristles with scowling energy. Hanner plays the gentler Delmar with lanky ease and sweetness.
And Brewer, stepping comfortably into the role made famous by Clooney, captures Everett's easygoing nature, his winking vanity and his way with words.
As the conclusion draws near, Brewer shows the deeper feelings behind Everett's hair pomade and verbal flair, proving that sometimes the hardest journeys are the ones that lead us home.
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Don't know if I could watch this without "seeing" the movie run before me. I don't think I could give them a fair chance. But, it does sound good, at least from this critic's review.
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