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A CurtainUp Review

Chasing Nicolette
By Kathryn Osenlund

Honesty is dumb; lying shows you care. --- Valere
Bronson Pinchot
Bronson Pinchot as Valere
This utterly delightful love story set in1224 cuts to the chase, offering a compelling and zany history rife with anachronistic wit. Now in its Philadelphia Premiere at the Prince Music Theater, Chasing Nicolette is the tale of a Moorish prince who, under orders from Nicolette's royal father, beats the bushes on several continents--chasing the vanished Nicolette. Her young French lover also seeks the elusive girl, though his father, a Count, has lined up a different girl for him to wed. A wily servant aids and abets in the adventure. With disguise, kidnapping, ridiculous surrogate torture, swordplay, and sudden reversals, don't look for plausibility. Yet there is an internal narrative logic to this romantic story of young lovers who won't be thwarted by race, religion, or social class.

An ad for the show reads, "It's just like Romeo and Juliet! Except ... no one drinks poison."Besides Montagues and Capulets, the field of reference could include Candide, A Servant of Two Masters, and several Shakespeare comedies.

This musical has it all. With the sweep of the story and inventive rhymes, Peter Kellogg's book and lyrics are just right. Composer David Friedman's tunes are catchy and shown to advantage in spirit-lifting orchestrations. This is the kind of show they mean when people ask, "Why don't they make musicals like they used to?"

The performers are all wonderful, from perky Jasika Nicole Pruitt as Nicolette and Davis Duffield as lovelorn Aucassin to the on-target impulses of Kevin R. Free as Nemur. Bronson Pinchot, who headlines the cast as Valere, is a fine-tuned actor whose experience shows in every gesture and nuanced conspiratorial glance at the audience. The voices of Rebecca Bellingham (Gwendolyn) and Kingsley Leggs (King of Carthage) are absolutely fine. Richard White, Bill Buell, Dale Radunz, and Mary Martello round out the cast with style and artistry.

"Stranger and Stranger", a fine ensemble piece integrates stunning voices with visual symmetry. "If You Were in Love" and "Now and Forever" advance romance. Other engaging songs, "I'm Not Upset," and "Do Nothing" earned enthusiastic ovations on opening night.

Great lines and adorable lyrics, with rhyme schemes often reminiscent of Moliere, meet expectations and sometimes cleverly thwart them. A few random samples from the zillion good lyrics:

" Ever since you sang your cheerful idyll
My mood has gone from glum to suicidal.

And I thought you were the sun. How bizarre.
Now I see you for the lower form of life you are.

It seems that when I gave the nun a whack,
I must have strained my sacroiliac."

Obviously put together by perfectionists, this polished production is evidence of hard work turned in by very talented people. Ethan McSweeny directs with verve, pulling together the action, pacing, music, and visual components. The bold simplicity of Neil Patel's sets-- nothing ditsy-- is supported by the exact and smooth engineering of scene shifts.

Projections of colorful old-style maps of Provence, Carthage, the Aegean, and Venice indicate the musical's geography, but the most important location is the exotic realm of the long-ago past. The lighting is excellent without calling undue attention to itself. Constance Hoffman's costumes are beautifully articulated, from the regalia for a regal moor to a 13th century pink Barbie robe.

Except for the irony of wit, Chasing Nicolette is not ironic. Neither is it angst-ridden or edgy. Its very predictability is a pleasure, as problems are resolved by conventionalized patterns of action and our expectations are satisfied. The lovers emerge from a complex tangle, and conflicts dissolve magically as the musical score rises at the predictable happy ending.

The daring young couple have resisted oppressive parental authority with energy and grace, and we, the audience, their implicit co-conspirators are bathed in the joyful glow of values that reaffirm our shared idealized self-image. Certainly we never would be among the small-minded. We, the mainstream audience, side with the young lovers against the forces of social propriety in this golden fairytale world! Chasing Nicolette is a real pleaser. I can see why there's talk about its being headed for Broadway.

Chasing Nicolette
Book and Lyrics by Peter Kellogg
Based on the French Romance, Aucassin and Nicolette
Music by David Friedman
Directed by Ethan McSweeny
Music director Robert K. Mikulski
Choreographer Karma Camp
Orchestrator Christopher Jahnke
Note: Original production at Westport Playhouse in CT in 2000 has been significantly re-worked and enhanced, with more songs, orchestrations, and cast members.

Cast in program order: Kingsley Leggs, Jasika Nicole Pruitt, Kevin R. Free, Bill Buell, Davis Duffield, Dale Radunz, Bronson Pinchot, Richard White, Rebecca Bellingham, Mary Martello
Scenic Design: Neil Patel
Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Sound Design: Nick Kourtides
Costume Design: Constance Hoffman
Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
Running time approx 2 hours with one 15 min intermission
Prince Music Theate. 1412 Chestnut Street,: 215.972.1006
From 12/04/04- 01/02/05
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 12/11 performance
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Modern Times/ Ensemble
  • Nicolette/ King of Carthage
  • Now and Forever / Aucassin & Nicolette
  • You Have To Lie /Valere
  • I'm Not Upset/ Beauclaire
  • Nothing In Common/ Nicolette
  • Agnus Dei/ Mother Superior
  • Romance/ Valere & Montescu.
  • Sword Against Sword/ Valence, Aucassin & Valere
  • I Was Raised In a Convent/ Gwendolyn, Beauclaire, Valence & Montescu
  • You're Always On My Mind / Nicolette
  • Now and Forever/Nicolette (reprise) / Aucassin & King
Act Two
  • Do What You Will / Aucassin, Valere, Beauclaire, Valence & Montescu
  • Do What You Will (reprise) / Aucassin
  • Sing To Her/ King & Nemur
  • There Once Was a Man/ Nemur
  • Stranger and Stranger / Ensemble
  • There Once Was a Man (reprise) / Nicolette
  • Do Nothing/ Valere
  • If You Were In Love / Nicolette & Gwendolyn
  • Now and Forever (reprise) / Nicolette & Aucassin
  • Finale/ Ensemble
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