Village Theatre, 303 Front St. N. (Issaquah), 425-392-2202, village theatre.org. Runs Tues.–Sun. Ends April 27. (Then moves to Everett Performing Arts Center, May 2–25.)
Maryrose Wood’s musical has its strengths, but clarity of intent is not one. Her story—of an aspiring writer, Edmund (Eric Ankrim), hired by Manhattanites Richard and Esther (Hugh Hastings, Beth DeVries) to help their rebelliously apathetic daughter Sweetie (Tatum Ludlam, double-cast with Katie Griffith) get into Princeton—presents a setup for a satire, of literary pretensions or upper-class neuroses or both, but Wood throws marshmallows rather than darts at her targets. Nor does it seem to be simply a nonjudgmental sociological character study; not one of these four is sharply drawn enough to elevate them above bland archetype. And none of them are easy to like—which, OK, earns a point for daring, but which really works against persuading the audience to care what happens next.
The Tutor’s cleverest conceit is that the characters in Edmund’s novel-in-progress come to life to advise him. Played adroitly by Matthew Kacergis and Kristen deLohr Helland, they shape-shift from role to role as Edmund tries to commit to a milieu: Civil War? Roaring ’20s? Wild West? Irish immigration? The costume and accent changes must have been a hoot for the actors, but it trapped composer Andrew Gerle into writing a lot of pastiche. Other numbers I’d just bet were repurposed from a pre-existing comedy revue: a faux college fight song, one about veganism, one about impotence. (Richard and Esther are in bed arguing about their nonexistent sex life; the orchestra steals in underneath; oh, God, please don’t sing about it. He does.)
Gerle’s a deft setter of Wood’s lyrics, especially when she offers the juicy challenge of dialogue or differing points of view within a song. (Though even these can come off as lessons too assiduously learned from Sondheim.) But his best number is a solo for Esther, “That’s How a Life Is Made,” a poignant paths-not-taken lament with a graceful melodic irregularity that sounds just like introspection made music.
It’s a rare moment of spice. According to the playbill, The Tutor was workshopped both at Village Theatre in 2004 and in Connecticut in 2001. Today’s result, expertly constructed and paced, testifies to a painstaking development process, but I’d rather not think about how much color and flavor might have been boiled out of it along the way.