The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Unbeatable
Organization Stand Out Talent
Date(s) of show June 14-30, 2013
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb
Review What happens when talented people put their heart and soul into a production they profoundly believe in? Magic is what happens. And I witnessed this magic at the opening night of Stand Out Talent’s West Coast premiere of Unbeatable at the Tower Theatre in Roseville last night. It’s the story of Tracy Boyd, a hard-charging, Type A executive whose life is turned upside-down by breast cancer. But on a fundamental level, the show is not so much about disease – its treatment and consequences – as it is about “the human spirit,” as its promotion proclaims.

This fast-paced production sparkles with excellent acting from a cast headed by Jennifer and Jason Bortz as protagonist Tracy Boyd and her husband, Brad. So much of Unbeatable is about relationships, and it is in the drawing of relationships, especially those between husband and wife, that one can see the authenticity of this show. The interaction between Tracy and Brad has all the ups and downs of a real marital relationship subject to a great stress – all expertly nuanced. In the intimate setting of the small Tower Theatre, with the audience on three sides, you’re close enough to see facial expressions that would be lost in a big theater. You’re right there, and the realism of what you’re seeing in the faces of the actors can be very engaging, even arresting. The genuineness of the feelings represented is simply overwhelming at times. Certainly it was for me, and I dare say it was for the rest of the audience, as well.

But it wasn’t just the Jennifer and Jason Bortz who impressed me. It occurred to me more than once that it would be a short step for any of these performers to be in the “big time.” Maybe that’s not surprising because the director is Todd Schroeder, who has reached the “big time” as a composer and performer with a national reputation. In fact, he wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the music for this show, and I believe I could see his inspired touch in many of the staging details that lift this production to the professional level.

Predictably, there was plenty of drama during the evening, but there was even more comedy. This is a musical, after all, and so, as you would expect, the serious moments alternate with comedy. Really, there are a lot of laughs in this show – enough for any comedy billed as such – and the humor is helped by the excellent comic timing of the players. But it is the witty writing that gives the players so much to work with. That is another advantage of the small theater: I felt that I didn’t miss a word of either dialog or lyric.

And speaking of lyrics, despite many beautifully played dramatic moments, the musical numbers were the highlight of this show for me. The lyrics are wonderfully clever and carry the action, rather than interrupting it. The songs themselves are accompanied by a three-piece combo, anchored by beautifully sensitive keyboard playing by Music Director Kay Hight. It seems that each number represents a different style of music, and it is all professionally presented. Interestingly, most of the actors have their own big solo number, and I (the life-long singer) was impressed with the quality of the singing. But what I heard was more than eminently listenable voices. These people are fundamentally actors who can sing, and it is their acting that delivers the real emotion behind a song.

Indeed, many of the songs are full of emotion, and “Hold on to Love” is just one of many high points. But I think there are more songs that are full of humor. I laughed through “Pricked, Poked and Prodded (that’s the lab rat’s reality),” “Super Shake” (in which Tracy and her best friend make a “healthy” shake on stage and try to drink it), and “The Pharmacy Song” in which Tracy’s doctor offers drugs, one after another, for her numerous complaints during treatment, only to add that the “possible” side-effects are the same as the original complaints. Overall, the music is good enough that I’d think about buying the sound track if it were available.

Last night was clearly a special occasion, and the opening-night crowd was full of breast cancer survivors and representatives of the charities that are benefitting from this production. So many of the audience members were intimately familiar with what was being portrayed – particularly the hassles of treatment – and they obviously loved the humorous handling of what are fundamentally serious issues. So it was no surprise that the standing ovation at the end of the performance was quick and prolonged. But I think that what the audience was responding to even more was the fundamental message of this show: value life and especially the family and friends that give it richness and meaning.

This was the first night of a three-week run, and I expect that tickets for the coming performances will be harder to get as word spreads. My suggestion? See it here, so that when it reaches Broadway in a year or two, you can brag that you saw it before it hit the “big time.”

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