Theater Review: Weston show getting up close, personal and Irish

Photo by Tim Fort Cass Morgan performs in her “The Road to Where,” with Max Grossman and Eli Zoller.

Photo by Tim Fort
Cass Morgan performs in her “The Road to Where,” with Max Grossman and Eli Zoller.

THE LOWE DOWN  |  By JIM LOWE

Imagine yourself in an Irish country pub with local musicians and a pint of Guinness when a woman steps forward and begins to tell her story — and sings it as well, joined by the bar’s musicians.

The woman is Broadway’s Cass Morgan and the show is her autobiographical “The Road to Where,” which just opened at the Weston Rod & Gun Club, as part of the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company’s OtherStages series. Thursday, Aug. 13’s preview performance proved as deeply touching as it was deeply funny.

Morgan, co-creator and star of Broadway’s “Pump Boys and Dinettes” (which opened Weston’s main stage season), now makes her home in Saxtons River when not working in New York or elsewhere. During a difficult time in her life, after a divorce, she felt compelled to seek her Irish roots. Morgan’s tale proves a journey from the reassuring to the unexpected.

On a whim while visiting a friend in London, Morgan takes a flight to Shannon Airport, then a bus to Ennis in County Clare, where her grandmother’s family began. There, a used bookstore proprietor sends her on “a magical journey.” She takes a rented bicycle through the country hills — meeting all sorts of wonderful characters — in search of her family. And herself.

Morgan, a truly skilled and charismatic performer, tells this story in words and song, beginning in her native Rochester, N.Y. Blended into the tale, virtually seamlessly, are songs, Irish and not. Most are by Morgan and are performed by Morgan, but some are sung by the excellent pub musicians, or by them with Morgan.

And, like the pub of our imaginations, folks even break into dance as well as song. It’s like a party, but the storytelling always remains at the fore. And it’s a wonderful story that most will relate to — and be moved by.

The music is an attractive mix of Broadway and traditional Irish. Morgan’s singing style is lyrical Broadway, but the accompaniment adds an authentic Irish feel. While these imaginative arrangements aren’t directly credited, the musical director, Steven W. Alper, may be responsible for much of it.

Morgan was joined by three particularly able musicians. Pearl Rhein was a particularly fine fiddler, but she also sang, danced and played the whistle with flair. Eli Zoeller not only sings, he plays guitar and banjo. Max Grossman joined in on piano and accordion.

The Rod & Gun Club was truly transformed by Kristen Robinson’s set, lit by Cory Pattak, with authentic-looking costumes by Barbara Bell.

Thursday’s preview performance suffered from some momentary technical glitches, and the final telling moment — when Morgan comes to a realization — became somewhat obscured by the business of what was going on. Still, these are quibbles.

Directed by Steve Stettler, Weston’s producing artistic director, “The Road to Where” is a very personal experience — entertaining and touching.

Weston Playhouse
Weston Playhouse Theatre Company presents Cass Morgan’s “The Road to Where” Aug. 13-30 at the Weston Rod & Gun Club, 982 Route 100 S., part of its OtherStages series. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $32, $16 for students; call 802-824-5288, or go online to www.westonplayhouse.org.

Jim Lowe is music critic and arts editor for the Rutland Herald and The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.
E-MAILjim.lowe@rutlandherald.com