Sham delivers ‘Under Construction: The Blue Collar Musical’ at Neil Simon Festival
By Rachelle Hughes
“Under Construction: The Blue Collar Musical, “Sham’s latest musical, is making its debut at the Neil Simon Festival’s 2017 season. Sham fills the roles of playwright, lyricist and co-director for this touchingly funny production. His past writing efforts include the internationally performed “Lend Me A Tenor the Musical” and the local favorite, A Christmas Carol on the Air (written with Brad Carroll). Sham’s work typically has a twist or two, letting us see the entertainment world from a different perspective. “Under Construction” is no exception.
Immediately, it’s clear this musical is going to challenge some boundaries. The audience is immediately invited to participate in the plot. Piercing the fourth wall is essential to the story of this play. While breaching the fourth wall is not a new technique it can be awkward if used poorly. Sham avoids this pitfall by not using it as an aside or a “technique.” No, the audience’s existence is the motivation for the musical. In fact, the first number “The Blue Collar Way” has the audience singing with the cast.
When construction workers, a theatre manager and teenage box office worker discover an audience sitting in their theatre that is currently under construction they are at a loss of how to appease the ticket holders. Two “audience members” come to the rescue as they demand that the audience get a show and offer to lend their long past high school theatre experience to creating an on-the-spot musical revue with the construction workers and theatre staff.
Turns out the construction crew has a band on the side that can play pretty much any musical genre as they accompany the fly by the seat of your pants plotline that ends up revealing the deeper life struggles of the cast as they try to work as a team to entertain their audience.
One of the most delightful surprises of “Under Construction” is the songs. Each song plays homage to a different musical style of both classic and current musicals while being completely original. There is a nod to musicals like “Sound of Music” with “What do you Love?”, a rap reminiscent of “Hamilton,” and even some gospel music where Don (played by Christopher Whiteside) proves he was born to sing gospel. Sound musically confusing? It’s not.
The variety of genres in one musical creates a unique experience. Some of the songs hold real promise of becoming musical classics if this musical finds its way beyond Utah’s borders. Olivia Sham, who plays the teenager Betsy, gives some real traction to her solo, “It’s Only a Moment,” making it an easy favorite. Olivia Sham brings a lot of youthful vitality to the production but it’s obvious she is not an amateur singer as she offers her beautiful voice to the musical pieces.
All of the actors bring energy to this script. Henry Ballesteros who has been seen on both Neil Simon Festival and Utah Shakespeare Festival stages brings his typical comedic intensity to his role as Steve the plumber audience member that puts on a new musical. Jourdyn Aspyn plays an overworked and personally troubled theatre manager Jeanine. Whiteside’s Don the construction worker feels authentic in his role good nice guy and Nate Marble’s Terry seems desperate to please while holding back a few secrets. Sham’s plot while predictable is endearing. There are a few dialogue moments that could use a little polish in wording and delivery but Sham willingly discloses that the script itself may experience some changes as it develops on the stage. It too is still a work in progress as the actors, the director, the playwright find the perfect groove for this new musical. However, this world premiere has a short run and is one of this season’s must sees. This is the chance to see the birth of a new musical with lots of promise.
Under Construction: The Blue Collar Musical runs through Aug. 12 at the Heritage Center Theater. For more information on show times and tickets visit simonfest.org.
PHOTOS By Carlos Ferrari