Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July, 1999

“Quark Victory” is what we get this summer in lieu of the Free Theatre. So the burning question here is – is “Quark Victory” worth the $15 ticket price, or are we getting Free Theatre quality for a heftier price. I am happy to say that this show is worth the money. This is a full blown musical with a pit band, a cool set, lots o’lights and sounds, and a talented equity cast. At $60 for a family of four (at a Broadway show $60 would get you one seat in the last row of the balcony) “Quark Victory” gives you lots of bang for your buck.

The financial analysis being over, we will now proceed to look at this show artistically. The plot of “Quark Victory” is completely predictable and formulaic. The songs, while fun, are not ones that you come out of the theatre humming. If it weren’t for a top notch cast and strong production values, this show could be fairly disasterous.

Samantha Fitzwater (Jessica Boevers) is shrunk to sub-atomic size while visiting her father’s laboratory to try to patch up a quarrel between her parents. Will she get home safely? Only after a long and strange journey through the atom. Will she pick up three lovable side-kicks and will they be thwarted in their efforts by the forces of evil while singing lots of cool songs? You betcha!

This is your typical quest tale, and the parallels to “The Wizard of Oz” are pretty obvious – especially when Samantha’s savior appears in the form of her long-dead paternal grandmother (Alison Kate Cherkis) who has returned in the form of a young girl wearing Billie Burke’s Glinda costume. But there is nothing wrong with a good quest tale. This is not quite a really good one, but its good enough.

While Samantha’s story is fully fleshed out, authors Robert and Willie Reale have got too many subplots going to do any of them any justice. I felt as if I was watching a severely cut version of this show because the story of Samantha’s parents – Herb (John Hickok) and Penelope (Karen Ziemba) Fitzwater – was so poorly developed. I have a sneaking suspicion that someone decided that a “family” show couldn’t run much more than 90 minutes and took a meat cleaver to the script, deleting the parents subplot on the theory that the kiddies wouldn’t sit still for it. Given the vast amount of talent wasted in Hickok and Ziemba, and given the opportunities that existed for the parents to bond during their search for their daughter, this cut or omission really changed the show from great to merely entertaining. I could have done without that neutral particle and the nerdy scientist to focus more on the Fitzwater family.

The major appeal to this show is its look and feel – aided greatly by Andy Blankenbuehler’s nifty choreography and the colorful costumes designed by Mimi O’Donnell. Blankenbuehler’s dance numbers simply crackle with (dare I say it?) atomic energy. Considering that many of the subatomic characters are literally never at rest, Blankenbeuhler has got his physics right.

Boevers is a bundle of talent and well able to carry this show home on her slender shoulders. She is nicely matched for the dance numbers with Tony award winner Wilson Jermaine Heredia as a negatively charged neutron named Scooter ( that’s a role very few actors get to put on their resume). The forces of evil are played strictly for laughs by Stephen DeRosa as Manny the Muon (I suggest you look some of this vocabulary up before attending the show) with David Hornsby and Jimmi Simpson as his Bad Neutron henchmen. Charlie Day does a mean Bobcat Goldthwaite impression as Newt, the neutrino (look it up) mistakenly transported into the Big World.

“Quark Victory” is a Williamstown Theatre Festival production running through July 31 at the Hunter Performing Arts Center at Mass MoCA. The show runs just under two hours with one intermission. For tickets and information about the show call the WTF box office at 413-597-3400. For information about Mass MoCA call 413-662-2111.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999

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