Book, Music and Libretto by John Paul Byrne
Triptych Theatricals Society
Ink! is a new, full-length, 12-character, 28-number musical written and composed entirely by first-time playwright John Paul Byrne. Byrne runs a magazine in the Okanagan and is a fan of Memphis music, so he’s written a play (without dialogue—only songs) about people who work on a magazine in Memphis. I wonder what he’d think of a playwright who had no magazine experience but was a fan, say, of The New Yorker, so decided to launch a major magazine. Based on some of the songs in Ink! I’d say that Byrne might have a future as a songwriter. But this show vividly illustrates why nearly all musicals have two or three names after the title. Playwriting, songwriting and musical composition are very different skills.
The show is both generic and confusing. A man has a dream (to open a magazine in Memphis—although the stakes don’t seem very high since in a major production number the magazine’s founder and staff sing, “we started this silly magazine because we got nothin’ better to do”). The dream is challenged, falters, but triumphs in the end. Relationships develop, fall apart, but finally triumph. Details are unclear; the time frame is muddy (partly due to Cindy Neilson’s costumes); a narrator oddly called Contents is meant, I think, to be the publisher’s dead wife; and when not involved in a number, actors stand upstage in vaguely ancient robes and masks representing “The Immortals,” whom all the cast join at the end for reasons that escaped me.
The plot has little dramatic shape and the music doesn’t help create a dramatic arc. Where the show’s drive needs a crescendo, it often devolves into diminuendo. Many references are made to Memphis as home of rock ‘n’ roll and the delta blues, but the few strong rock and blues numbers don’t arrive until well into the second act. And one of the big numbers about music (“Broadway Meets Beale”) is one of the weakest.
On the plus side, some of the songs transcend the show’s weaknesses, most sung by the women who are the production’s greatest strength: Kendahl Diebold (despite having awkwardly to stand around a lot as Contents), Nadia Hovan, and especially Laura Cowan, who might be this town’s next musical theatre star. Though sometimes falling prey to the worst kind of generic lyrics (“you touched my heart/I never felt this way before”), Byrne has a knack for writing sweet ballads (e.g., the pretty love duet “Once in a While”) and even the odd hard-edged, up-tempo ditty (“Opportunistic”).
Chris King’s band is fine but the singers should be miked to give them enough volume to engage the audience and be heard over the band. James Gill’s direction and Shawna Perry’s nondescript choreography add little value to the package.