There's more than one way to say goodbye. In his classy little musical, American composer Jason Robert Brown brings effective dramatic effect to the word, using it both to begin and end the doomed love story of Jamie Wellerstein, an ambitious young Jewish writer from New York, and Cathy Hiatt, an aspiring actress from Ohio.
On paper, the storyline reads like an overloaded sugar rush, but the stage reality is quite different, not least because of the wit and musical quality of the songs, the delicate live score and a cleverly constructed narrative in which the dual perspectives are unpeeled, back to back, in reverse order.
Belfast's Blunt Fringe company was launched 18 months ago by sisters Claire Murray and Rachel Logan-Fee. In that time, they have made a significant mark, thanks to high-quality production values and intelligent choices. Acquiring the rights to Brown's award-winning show, which was adapted for the screen in 2014, is no small feat.
The responsibility for delivering the intricate sung-through storyline rests on the shoulders of the two performers, Amy Lennox and Fra Fee (brother of Claire and Rachel). In time-honoured fringe tradition, the in-the-round presentation is intimate and immersive, the audience seated on three sides of the Lyric's Naughton Studio space and the band – comprising a violin, a cello, a guitar and bass, splendidly led on piano by Mark McGrath – gathered unobtrusively across the back wall.
The dressing of Stephen Whitson’s box-strewn set is kept to a minimum, brought to ever-changing life by Conleth White’s lighting, which provides unsettling spotlit moments of exposed emotion as well as darkened corners that shelter private grief. Some production glitches are exposed by the close proximity of the staging, however: clumsy colour-coding on the boxes, blank pages in an apparently closely written notebook, an empty laptop screen.
There is something of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald about Jamie and Cathy’s uneven partnership. Having worked his way through the young, female Jewish population of his home patch, Jamie revels in breaking his mother’s heart by choosing a blond, pretty shiksa girl from the sticks. Initially, she is bewitched by his boyish charm and meteoric success, tagging along in his reflective glory while vainly trying to launch her own career. Lennox skims lightly across her demanding role like a brightly coloured butterfly, capturing both the agonising rejection of her opening goodbye and the ecstatic farewell that ends their first date. She carries off Brown’s mischievous audition set-piece quite brilliantly.
Early on, Fee works just a little too hard on his ferociously difficult songs, ditching thoughtful characterisation for West End swagger, but eventually finds a sweeter touch as his marriage and lifestyle fall prey to fame and fortune.
Ends July 4th