By: Darryl Reilly
“Central Park is the Mecca for street singers.” So, states a young female performer in the quaint and pleasurable Manhattan-set musical, The Speed of Sound. Cater waiter Claire usually sings her self-written songs in Washington Square Park, but today she has journeyed to Strawberry Fields. Unaware of the pecking order for performers there, she clashes with the vagabond Nick, another young musical striver whose favorite band is The Beatles. With the “Imagine” ground mosaic in sight, Nick and Claire smartly converse, beautifully sing together and join forces. For 90 charming minutes we follow the couple’s growing personal, romantic and professional attachment; life’s harshness intrudes. On view in the background throughout, is a lovely, stylized painted cityscape evoking New York’s eternal allure as a destination for ambitious creative dreamers.
From the sweet boy-meets-girl meet-cute, to the bittersweet conclusion, author Claude Solnik’s skillful book charts this engaging and simple narrative through his polished dialogue which is laden with wit and emotion. Mr. Solnik delineates his affectionately drawn characters with accuracy and sufficient biographical details. Solnik injects enough realistic and well observed dramatic incidents in this thoughtfully entertaining old-fashioned tale. Musical director, and composer and lyricist Mike Borgia’s zesty score is an eclectic collection of often rousing rock, pop and folk numbers.
With his flowing hair, lithe physicality and sunny presence, the youthful Henry Vincent wonderfully sings and acts with range during his commanding characterization of the good-natured Nick. The captivating Kirstin Wolf offers a delightful portrait of girlish idealism, feistiness and pragmatism as the musically gifted Claire. Mr. Vincent and Ms. Wolf’s tender performances and magnetic chemistry together enrich The Speed of Sound.
As Claire’s wisecracking roommate, the formidable Camila Maric is a riotous foil, landing zinger after zinger while fretting over her pet chameleon named Karma. The lean, wiry, bearded and beaming Charles Meckley magnificently veers from overdrive to laidback as the wily, yet sincere music company executive who discovers Nick and Claire in the park.
Director Robert Liebowitz’s focused physical staging endows the presentation with swift pacing, appropriate action and visual variety; the musical sequences and dramatic portions are integrated with assured unity. Allison Lau’s clever and detailed compartmentalized scenic design allows the numerous scenes in various locations to fluidly transition from one to the next. Lighting designer Marsh Shugart’s array of warm hues and crisp dim interludes perfectly complement the piece’s tones and highlight the musical portions.
The Speed of Sound is a welcome and nostalgically fulfilling theatrical respite from present day concerns.
The Speed of Sound (through January 7, 2024)
Theater For the New City, 155 First Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission