by Leta Tremblay · August 21, 2015
“Ellen, I’m leaving.”
This refrain is repeated throughout James Harvey’s new musical, The Crack in the Ceiling, when yet another man walks out the door of Ellen and David’s home. Another man who Ellen hoped would repair the crack in her kitchen ceiling. And stick around to offer a sense of security and safety.
Director Stephen Tyler Davis leads and all star cast of Broadway talent to tell this story of abandonment, family, and ultimately acceptance of the challenges that we face as human beings in this unfair world.
Ellen, capably played by Kristy Cates (Wicked), is a single mother trying to keep it together without any confidence that she actually can. Her son David, played by the talented Nicky Torchia (Kinky Boots), only wants to spend time with her, just the two of them, like a family. But when he notices a leaking crack in the ceiling, all hell breaks lose as a revolving door of men, all convincingly played by Josh Grisetti (It Shoulda Been You), enter their lives with advice and solutions as diverse as their personalities.
And they are hilariously diverse. With just a simple costume change, wig, and shift in attitude, Grisetti brings to life the young handyman who over charges, the elderly plumber who instills confidence, the Mold Man, the “French” contractor, Vinnie in the basement, and the kook selling the idea of “alternative home repair.” With each of them Ellen’s hopes are renewed that not only will her ceiling be fixed but that this one will stick around to take care of her, David, and the house. “One more man will do it.”
But it can’t be fixed. It’s broken permanently. And so, she thinks, is she.
The crack is a metaphor for the helplessness that Ellen feels as a parent and she allows it to create a divide between herself and her son. In the marketing image, mother and son are literally separated by the crack and cannot reach each other beyond it.
Despite this sobering undercurrent, The Crack in the Ceiling is full of fun, lighthearted dance numbers and hopeful duets. The ridiculousness of the situation and antics of the characters as they try to fix it actually brings a levity to what could be a cripplingly depressing story. Davis leads a cast of top notch performers through Harvey’s catchy and well constructed music and words. This is an engaging and compelling musical that played well in front of a very appreciative audience.
I’ve also got to commend designer David Goldstein for the set which goes above and beyond what you usually see at the New York International Fringe Festival. With a hanging ceiling frame, a removable kitchen floor, and two working doors, he’s transformed the Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project to give us a greater sense of what the full production might be on a larger stage. Kudos to the crew for putting that up and bringing it down in 15 minutes every day!
I’m also happy to report that, after near disaster, Ellen does figure out what’s most important in the end: “No someone else can come solve my problems.” And of David; “There’s just one thing I’ve touched that I’m sure won’t split.”