Molly Conole is busy. She’s a producer, director, singer, playwright, lyricist, and composer with different shows coming up at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse in February, March, April, and May. In May, Conole will star in her new one-woman-show, “Seaglass, Quilts & Song: Life in Pieces,” which she is pretty much creating soup to nuts, with MJ Bruder Munafo, Playhouse artistic and executive director, taking on the role of director.
If you follow the Playhouse at all, you probably know Conole’s work as the creator, director, and singer in the very popular Wicked Good Musical Revues, which have become a staple of the off-season. Conole came up with the idea for musical performances where each show consists of theme-based Broadway songs. The theme in March is “The Sun, Moon and Stars,” in April, “Wheel of Fortune,” and for the next revue on Feb. 8, 9, and 10, “History.” In January, the revue gave us “Transitions,” and the performance was stunning.
“Transitions” began with a sublime arrangement of “Who Will Buy” from “Oliver!” which featured the entire cast. David Behnke brought his luxurious baritone to “If Ever I Would Leave You” from “Camelot,” and Ken Romero tapped his way through “Tap Your Troubles Away” from “Mack and Mabel.” And he sang too, provoking a rousing response from the crowd. A highlight was Jenny Friedman and Conole singing the duet ballad, “Hard Candy Christmas” from “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” giving it a perfect rendition of luscious sound and close harmonies. Curtis Fisher was terrific in the opening and closing numbers, and shone, along with his two compatriots, Behnke and Romero, in “Father of Fathers” from “Closer Than Ever.” As usual, featured on the keyboard were the excellent Peter Boak and Molly Sturges.
There are many reasons to attend Wicked Good. The songs are a delightful combination of old favorites and rarities, making for nostalgia and surprise. It’s a chance to hear singing in a pure form, often called “legit.” It’s not belting, it’s not operatic, and it’s not rock ’n’ roll. It’s a style where singers can sing the full range of their individual voices without sounding forced. Think Julie Andrews or Kristin Chenoweth.
This natural vocal sound is a rare event these days, with many new Broadway shows written to use a more rock, miked sound. Nothing wrong with that necessarily, but the musical delivery and tone of good legit singers is engaging and always a pleasure to hear. Another skill these singers have in abundance is the ability to naturally articulate every word, so that the audience has the pleasure of hearing every word. Not a bad idea. The small 98-seat theater itself adds to the event’s pleasing intimacy.
Conole is currently working on her one-woman May show, for which she is writing the book, music, and lyrics. And performing. It’s part of the Playhouse’s Spring Solo Shows series. The idea for the show came to Conole about 20 years ago, and then “got filed into the past.” Recently, the idea came back to her with a jolt. “It screamed at me and said, ‘Do something.’ I didn’t really know where it was going to lead, but I knew I needed to go there,” Conole says. “Seaglass” is based on events from Conole’s life, told through a series of vignettes and songs. Of special interest is the unconventional structure, devised by Conole, which should make for an intriguing evening of musical storytelling.
Even though Conole has long collaborated with two of the Island’s fine pianists, Boak and Sturges, there’s no pianist for this show, but it’s not for a lack of appreciation. It’s for a sense of theatricality Conole felt right for this show. She is using a “looping machine,” which will allow her to sing to recorded accompaniment. That’s not all. She’s actually taking the idea a step farther, singing live on stage, recording vocal lines in front of an audience, then playing them back with the looping machine while singing along, again, live. “Oh, instant harmony!” she says. “I can create the vocal texture live and then be live again, harmonizing with myself.” She continues, laughing, “It’s super-fun. I feel loopy.” Sorry about that, but I’m quoting Conole, so you can blame her.
If you haven’t seen one of the Wicked Good Revues, you want to. They’re always packed, and many folks in the audience come back time after time. If you have seen the revues, then you’re probably already a Conole fan, and you’ll want to catch her solo show. Here’s the info: Wicked Good Musical Revues: Feb. 8, 9, and 10, March 15, 16, and 17, and April 12, 13, and 14 (shows are at 7 pm, except Sundays, when they begin at 2 pm). Dates for the solo show, “Seaglass, Quilts & Song,” are May 10 and 11. Not to be missed.
For more information, visit mvplayhouse.org or call 508-696-6300.