“Granny Bird.” Another opening. Another world premiere.
This is nothing new for the Alleyway Theatre and its tireless impresario, Neal Radice. The company has just opened its 36th season, almost all of them dedicated to producing works by new playwrights. “Granny Bird” – adapted by Radice from a script sent to him by Robin Rice Lichtig a decade ago – is finally ready for its close-up.
Radice would be the first to admit that he thinks about a new play’s potential for a long time; his “Italian Serenade,” for example, took 14 years from conception to opening night. Neal found Lichtig’s story lacking a bit and suggested transforming it into a musical, a Radice forte. No time to do that, said Lichtig, but she gave her blessing for the Alleyway to go it alone. So, rewrite; a score; stop and go. Alleyway perseverance.
It’s a timely tale. Granny Bird, aging, has some medical issues, needing a passel of daily meds and she has symptoms of Alzheimer’s, notably a transient memory. And, she gets lost a lot. Her grandson Bill has decided that a senior care facility is the best course for her, a decision she decides to fight, with the help of her feisty conspirator and 10-year-old great-granddaughter, Zoe. Together they run away to a treehouse in a nearby woods where they hope to live free and easy, obstacles be damned, Bill thwarted.
But, Zoe has her doubts. She asks Granny, “What if you get more sick?” “Oh,” rasps Granny, “Sing me a song. That’ll be better than any pill.” Zoe is not convinced.
Granny Bird relates to Zoe a Native American legend about “The Woman Who Learned to Fly.” A wise crow tells an old woman that if she believed she could fly, she could – neglecting to say that the soaring, the exhilaration, was temporary, that a crash was imminent, with a heavy price paid for freedom. “That was not a happy ending,” Zoe reflects. It gradually becomes clear that this bit of folklore and Granny are inseparable.
Radice has written a sweet, simple, story-telling score, 10 songs that teach about the four characters in this little slice of life story: Granny (Terry Braunstein), Zoe (Allison Barsi), Zack (Shawn Calmes, as Zoe’s twin) and Bill (David G. Poole), Granny’s grandson and guardian. The songs come along at the right time, add to the story and are often fun, warm and real, if occasionally syrupy: Granny and Zoe’s duets are particularly good; the animated and growly Braunstein’s Granny is wonderful on “Everything I Need;” the stalwart Poole sets time and place nicely with “Something Magical Happened Here”; and the two youngsters – poised, stage-smart – frolic through “Boy, Are We In Trouble.”
“Granny Bird” stretches credibility some; Bill, a little dim, thinks Granny, sick and wobbly, has gone to Tanzania. Right. And the treehouse, a family landmark, never enters his mind as a possible sanctuary. But all is forgivable. Good people in crisis here.
Braunstein – once the pert, Buffalo- and Bills-promoting “Talking Proud” girl back in the day – is full of sass and spirit as Granny. Good to see her back on a main stage.