Broom Street Theater’s musical Held is a fairy-tale like adventure, set in an apocalyptic landscape of battles, dying trees and rivers that run red with blood. It unravels a complex story of three longtime friends who are, at the show’s start, trapped by a wizard’s curse in a cell with no windows or doors.
This is the first full-length work by Kelly Maxwell. Maxwell has established herself in Madison as a talented actress and musician — both she and Held’s music director and composer Meghan Rose perform as part of folk-pop foursome Little Red Wolf — and this show also marks her debut as a director. Rose has an equally impressive resume: She plays in three Madison bands and has composed music for three musicals, including one that appeared in the New York Fringe Festival.
Maxwell and Rose make a powerhouse of a team. They know what they are doing, and Held is proof. It’s well crafted, and its entertaining mix of fantasy, memorable music, and emotional ups and downs keep the audience engaged.
At the center of the emotion is Korin, played by Erin McConnell. A “dreamer” who possesses supernatural gifts, she’s girlish, self-centered and completely charming. McConnell excels in her role, maintaining a sweet impishness that hides something darker.
Her costume (by Raven Albrecht) is the simplest of all three characters’— a floor-length white halter dress — and totally stunning. It conjures the toga of an oracle, a bridal gown, and a flowing river — all reflecting aspects of Korin’s character.
As Korin’s best friend and “chosen sister” Mera, Sarah C. Streich also delivered an excellent performance on opening night. Mera is the opposite of a dreamer. She’s a realist who sees the truth that Korin cannot. Fiery and determined, Mera is a soldier on the cusp of heading off to battle with her trusty knife at her waist. Her spunk and readiness to fight can’t help but draw comparisons to Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.
Patrick Chounet’s Bardo seems a bit like a third wheel, which feels appropriate for his character. The latecomer to the group of friends, Bardo embodies the awkwardness of a teenager. His hands dangle uncomfortably at his sides and he’s overly eager to please the two girls. His simplicity and innocence make for a good balance to the other, more complicated, characters.
Held’s nine original songs are not just interludes of entertainment; they are used to further the plot and develop characters. On opening night, vocal performances were mostly strong and any imperfections were made up for by passionate delivery. The audience was asked to hold applause until the end, which allowed the music to be woven into the performance without interruption. A live band — bass, cello, and piano — accompanies the vocals.
A show that works on multiple levels, Held is simultaneously a fantastical adventure and a story about the emotional intricacies of relationships. It’s filled with poetry, humor, and gorgeous music. This dreamy fairy tale is one that won’t soon be forgotten by Madison audiences.
Review by Amelia Cook Fontella, The Isthmus
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