BOOKSTORE theatre review

ABET opened Bookstore, its last show of the season, by Richard Wolf (book and music) and Jane McAdams (lyrics). This is the Jacksonville premier; the world premier was held in Fernandina, Wolf’s hometown, a couple of years ago. The show will run through May 29 at 716 Ocean Boulevard in Atlantic Beach, Florida. Call 249-7177 or visit for reservations.
This musical comedy is set in Avenue Books, a small independent bookstore in New York City. Tony (David Jon Davis), the owner, inherited it from an uncle, and is trying to make a go of it against the big book giants like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He has a number of difficulties facing him and the first and foremost is his ex-wife, Lydia (Theresa Davidson-Buchanan), who happens to be his landlady. She sings a song “Confrontation” that tells it all. This shrewish lady wants her rent and her alimony, no bones about it. Another difficulty is his use of scotch for daily fortification.
Tony hires Emily (Veronica “Ronnie” Moore), who is young and recently widowed, as a sort of Girl Friday, with duties that include waiting on customers, stocking shelves, and keeping dust away. In fact, she’s such a great assistant that after she starts work, Tony never interacts with the customers again. Emily sings a number of songs; the one with the most tantalizing title “Sleaze and Filth and Smut and Scum,” is sung as she reluctantly stocks the racks with the latest issues of Playboy, Playgirl and Penthouse.(Tony’s business is mainstream books, but as he explains, sometimes you have to sell what you have to sell to stay in business).
The story moves on as Emily meets and greets customers like Nora (Gretta Russe), an editor unhappy with her employment at a company that publishes unconventional works. For example, her current project is a book by a detective who commits suicide and then spends the rest of the book trying to find out the killer. Emily and Nora become friends and sing a duet “Call a Friend.”
Deborah Hurm is Phyllis, an attractive woman on the sundown side of fifty, who in her earlier years starred in a number of Tennessee Williams plays. She comes to the store looking for a copy of a magazine that is going to do a profile on her and perhaps restart her career.
As fate would have it, Phyllis is surprised when Todd (Leonard Alterman) a distinguished man, enters the store. Phyllis and Todd had been paramours thirty years ago, but had a falling out when Todd directed her in a play that she claims ruined her career when it flopped. Time does heal all wounds, and the two wind up singing “Thirty Years Ago,” one of the loveliest songs in the show. Mr. Alterman became a cast member just two days before the show opened, taking over for an actor who had a sudden illness. His performance with Ms. Hurm was as smooth and convincing as if they had been rehearsing for weeks.
The final character is Will (Rico Lastrapes) who, shabbily dressed, enters the store, pretends to want a book, pulls a gun, and demands cash from the frightened Emily. He says he owes rent and is desperate, takes only the amount he needs, and leaves.
Here the play becomes a bit of fairy tale, as Emily starts to call the police but hangs up. Next scene, she tells her boss about the robbery, and the reason she didn’t call the law it; she had a hunch. Yes, a hunch, that the thief would make it right. Well, at this point we could give you details on how all this is resolved, but that be a spoiler. We will say that there is a sort of happy ending ahead for each character.
Shelli Long, well known throughout North Florida for her musical talents, was both the Musical Director and Director of the show, a daunting task with a new musical. She performed masterfully on the keyboard as a one-woman band, and Shelli added choreography to the show-stopping number “Amazon.”
David Jon Davis has a number of theatre credits locally including Shenandoah at the Alhambra, and the Emcee in Cabaret at the Amelia Community Theatre in Fernandina. Ms. Moore appeared at ABET in the chorus of The Act and at Limelight Theatre as Angel in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Tessie Tura in Gypsy.
Ms. Davidson-Buchanan appeared in all the PBTS productions of Gene Nordan’s musical Piano Bar. The remainder of the cast has mainly appeared in a number of non-musical plays. All the cast members know how to do comedy and there are a lot of laughs in this play.
New musicals are difficult for cast members, since CDs aren’t available to assist in learning the music and words. The cast performed the songs with enthusiasm and sincerity but on a few occasions some of the notes were a bit beyond the vocal reach of the singer.
The cast used its own clothing, subject to approval by the director, and projected an urban vibe. The set designed by Pam Larson and Ms. Long consisted of several spaces, including crammed bookshelves, Tony’s office, and a sidewalk café complete with latticework and rosebushes.
Bookstore certainly has a future, we would think. Theatres always want to do musicals, especially musical comedies since they are the most popular with patrons, but oh, so expensive to do. This one has a small cast and a relatively simple set, with little or no costume costs. There are fifteen original songs, and honestly there are several you could walk out of the theater humming. Some could eventually stand alone; that is be successful on an album or as part of the repertory of a vocalist. Tony’s “Another Kind of Man,” Emily’s “Life Keeps Moving On,” and the opening song “Start All Over Again” are ballads that we would enjoy hearing again. Don’t miss this original work.