Entertainment, Lifestyle

Arts After Hours’ ‘Edges’ a finely-honed musical

Concetta Russo, left, Krystal Scott, Nicole Viau and Catherine Benjamin rehearse for the musical Edges at the Black Box Theatrer. (File Photo | Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — Arts After Hours’ eighth season gets off to a splendid start with “Edges,” a sharp song-cycle musical that spotlights four young women standing at the crossroads, juggling careers and relationships, both successfully and disastrously.

Young adults navigating similar life issues will find much to relate to here. Older adults will think back to those olden days, when everything was new and exciting and scary.

When Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote “Edges,” they were undergrads at the University of Michigan and had yet to set out to make their mark in the world. It was originally written to explore the relationships and stories between two men and two women. But Arts After Hours director Catherine Bertrand has boldly cast strong, talented women in all four roles. It would be interesting to experience “Edges” with the mixed cast and compare, but it’s hard to imagine the show being more powerful or  entertaining than this. It’s over in a lightning-quick 75 minutes.

The cast’s four women — Concetta Russo of Peabody, Krystal Scott of Fitchburg, Nicole Viau of Malden and Catherine Benjamin of Salem — have completely different vocal styles, but all boast strong, expressive voices, and they harmonize beautifully. It’s evident they, Music Director Sarah Byrne-Martelli and Bertrand worked hard to get the tone and timing just right.

Russo and Viau portray an insecure couple in “I Hmm You,” with neither brave enough to be the first to utter the word “love.”

Viau puts her operatic soprano to great use in “Perfect.” About to lose her lover she pleads, “I can be perfect. Tell me what you want me to be.” It’s heartbreaking and exasperating at the same time.

Russo displays fine acting skills while rocking out on “I’ve Gotta Run” and “Monticello,” which, like Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” is about escaping a mundane existence for a better life.

Scott has serious musical theater chops and a powerhouse voice. “What hurts the most is knowing that I love you more than you love me,” she sings in “Dispensable,” the anguish palpable. She turns psychotic in a funny, over-the-top,  invective-laced rant: “In short, I hope you die” is about the nicest thing she wishes for  an ex-lover.

Salem State University grad Benjamin brings a lovely folk/pop vibe to her solos. Her warm, expressive reading of “I Once Knew (a Woman),” a heart-tugging plea to Mom, will have you choking back tears.

“Like Breathing,” the ensemble’s closing number, is breathtaking.

Byrne-Martelli has assembled a fine four-piece backing band: Michael Berkowitz on guitar, Kilian Duarte on bass, Joe Cincotta on drums and herself on keyboards. They’re a huge asset.

The set design (graffiti-covered windows, brick walkways) by India Lee is spare but effective. Kudos, too, to Michael Wonson (lighting), Dave Simmons (sound) and Liza Giangrande (costume design).

We’ve all experienced living on the “Edges” at one time or another. Feeling unfulfilled, insecure and frightened by having to deal with real emotions isn’t easy.

But that’s life. And it’s a journey worth taking in Arts After Hours’ sharp “Edges.”

“Edges” is at the LynnArts Rantoul Black Box Theatre in Central Square June 8, 9, 10. For tickets and additional information, go to artsafterhours.com. A discount is available to Item readers for this weekend’s shows; use the code SHARPEDGES and save $10 per ticket.

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