4x4=8. Yes, they know the math is wrong, but the title is still apt. Live on Stage Productions’ contribution to the Fertile Ground festival consists of eight short musicals, each performed on a 4-foot by 4-foot stage. The idea was hatched by longtime Ten Tiny Dances lighting designer Mark LaPierre, who designed the lights for one edition of Ten Tiny Dances and thought the small-stage concept would translate well to musical theater. He’s right, mostly. As with Ten Tiny Dances, the pieces succeed best when they don’t take themselves too seriously and use the space constraints to their advantage.
The majority of the eight mini-musicals that make up the evening achieve this; we’re treated to love stories set in a subway car, an elevator, and even—in a silly but fun duet by two liver flukes—in the dark of a dog’s belly. We hear a torch song titled “Occupy My Heart” sung by a protestor for his sociology classmate turned protest leader. Subway commuters turn into go-go backup dancers in “New York Minute,” the best-choreographed piece of the night. Chandra Hall’s excellently scored “Crownheads” features overlapping musical monologues by Miss Oregon finalists from Stumptown, The Dalles and North Tualatin. The best piece of the night is “Work Friends,” written by Aubrey Jessen and Mont Chris Hubbard, in which two Viking-loving cubiclemates (played by Joshua Stenseth and Matt Sa) consider taking their bromance beyond the office while toying with office supplies. The only major flop of the night is a piece that brings Yasser Arafat, Anwar Sadat and Adolf Hitler together to sing about truth and justice. It’s nearly impossible to understand a word of the dialogue through the thick affected accents, and the staging doesn’t help.
The ensemble cast appear in multiple pieces, singing their hearts out and having at least as much fun as the audience members. Notably outstanding performances include the very adept Joshua Stenseth and Rebecca Teran, whose solo in “Work Friends” nearly steals the show. Audrey Voon is equally captivating in very different roles as a bright-eyed jock discovering her beauty in “Crownheads” and as an annoyingly perky secretary in “The Daydream Meanderings of the 27th Floor Data Entry Clerk.” Let’s hope we get to hear more of her voice onstage soon.
SEE IT: 4x4=8 Musicals plays 7:30 pm Friday-Saturday, Jan. 27-28 at The CoHo Theater, 2257 NW Raleigh St.. Tickets $25 at liveonstage.us.