Group therapy has never been more entertaining—or more tuneful—than it is in Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ’s 1995 off-Broadway musical Inside Out, back for an all-star 20th Anniversary revival at Burbank’s Grove Theatre Center.
Under Bruce Kimmel’s pizzazzy direction, Broadway and regional theater vets Sandy Bainum, Jill Marie Burke, Cynthia Ferrer, Stephanie Fredricks, Dana Meller, and Adrienne Visnic simply could not be more sensational as a sextet of modern women (of the ‘90s), nor Haverty’s book more delightfully witty and perceptive, nor Haverty and Russ’s songs more infectiously hummable, nor the women onstage at GTC any more fascinating and complex.
There’s Liz (Bainum), a high-powered business ex wanting to “have it all” and failing miserably at the attempt; Molly (Meller), a recent mom whose pregnancy pounds have refused to stay off to the detriment of her marriage and sex life; and Chlo (Fredricks), a lipstick lesbian who’s sworn off love forever … or at least till her teenage boy leaves the maternal nest.
Youngest member Sage (Visnic), a quirky flower child big on reading Tarot cards but not so big on developing self-esteem, and recording artist Dena (understudy Burke), a one-hit wonder who’s been trying for years to score that second Number One and fizzled instead of sizzled, complete the fivesome sharing their secrets with each other and with their therapist Grace (Ferrer) … and doing some potent female bonding along the way.
Not surprisingly for a musical about a “girl group,” songwriters Haverty and Russ provide the ladies with plenty of girl-group harmonies along the way while insuring that each and every cast member gets at least one Diva Showcase if not more.
Meller’s is “Thin,” a sing-along ode to every new mother’s desire to take off those added pounds. Visnic gets “I Don’t Say Anything,” sure to resonate with everyone who’s ever stayed quiet while just bursting to speak his or her mind. Bainum’s big number, “Do It At Home,” turns a woman’s realization that her high-power office job might not be all it’s cracked up to be into a ‘50s doo-wop number.
Fredricks’ “Never Enough” expresses a woman’s wishes for the kind of perfect love you only see on the silver screen. Ferrer’s big solo is “I Can See You Here,” Grace’s attempt to persuade Dena that she would fit perfectly into the women’s group. And Burke’s “All I Do Is Sing” expresses a formerly chart-topping diva’s wish simply to use her God-given gifts to their fullest extent.
Along the way, Haverty’s book lets us get to know each of the women up close and personal as each begins to reveal her deepest secrets, often in group therapy games like role-playing (Dena stands in for Chlo’s rap-loving teen in the electric “Yo, Chlo”) and “Complete the sentence” exercises.
The result of all this soul-baring is “Grace’s Nightmare,” the delicious dream fantasy sequence that opens Act Two, and just one of several that benefit from Kimmel and regular cast member Leslie Stevens’ inventive musical staging.
Over the course of Inside Out’s briskly moving two hours, decisions are made, couples break up, careers change direction, self-esteem rises, and life-long bonds are formed—the stuff of life if you will, though far more entertaining than what most of ours would be if set to music.
Say what? Though celebrities may change (Twiggy? Mia Farrow?) and technology along with them, the issues these six women face have hardly gone away, and (in this reviewer’s humble opinion) Inside Out remains every bit as relevant in 2015 as it was in 1995.
It helps of course, that (thanks to AEA’s endangered Los Angeles 99-seat plan), you’ve got five of the six roles filled by Equity vets with credits a mile long, the final role going to one of USC’s brightest and most stardom-bound recent grads.
The always marvelous Ferrer’s richly-layered Grace combines professionalism and warmth in equal measure. Fredericks is simply divine as Chlo, the lesbian most likely to fire up her straight gal pals. Meller’s goofy charm and empathy-inducing vulnerability add up to a stand-out Molly. Effervescent East-to-West-Coast transplant Bainum is a just-right mix of power and vulnerability as Liz. Visnic is ditzy perfection as the not-so-sage Sage. (Needless to say, all five sing absolutely sensationally under Alby Potts’ expert musical supervision.)
Gorgeous bright-and-burnished hues make scenic designer Rei Yamamoto’s set a visual treat, lit to perfection by Maarten Cornelis, with Josh Benton’s sound design making sure that the production’s live band and un-amped vocals are mixed to perfection.
Best of all are Natalya Shahinyan’s rainbow-hued costumes, each character sporting a new one (or a clever tweaking of the one we’ve just seen) for each new therapy session, and there are a whole lot of them. (That set and costumes have been astutely color-coordinated is an added bonus.)
Musical arrangements are by Ned Ginsburg and vocal arrangements by E. Suzan Ott, and both are exquisite, as are live instrumentals by Potts on piano and Tyler Smith on drums and percussion.
Victoria Chediak is stage manager, with assistant stage manager Maggie Marks also in charge of props. Inside Out is presented by Kritzerland Entertainment and PlayWorks Music. Joanna Erdos is associate producer.
Regional theaters, including those in and around Burbank, might well consider adding Inside Out to their upcoming seasons. Not only has it aged quite gracefully indeed, it’s non-ethnicity-specific characters would make it ideal for companies seeking to promote racial diversity in their casting.
I first discovered Inside Out’s Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording some ten years back, and I’ve been wishing and hoping for a local staging since then. With six of the most fabulous women you’ll ever see on an L.A. stage (whether as intimate as GTC’s or as grand as SoCal’s grandest), Inside Out is as Inside-Outstanding a chamber musical as anyone could hope for.
March 1, 2015
Photos: Michael Lamont