Talk about your First World Problems. In the Benj Pasek and Justin Paul penned Edges, those problems are taken to a whole new level, in a song cycle about life as a twenty-something.
The distinction of Edges as a song cycle instead of a musical is an important one, for rather than any sort of narrative to drive a story, the show is simply a collection of songs with a thin thread connecting them. That thread is the trials and tribulations about growing up in your twenties.
Unfortunately, from our place of privilege in the world, those trials and tribulations rarely adds up to anything and Edges happily (or not so happily depending on the current song) skips along the surface to the next life “crisis”. There is never any time to care about any of these people. There may be a reason why a particular song in Edges is more compelling than the millions of other similar songs, but we’re never given the chance to find out. Such is the nature of a song cycle, but the more successful ones, like Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World, still manage to offer a story arc among its disparate characters.
As a song cycle, a show like Edges is therefore all about the music and while Pasek and Paul deliver some interesting tunes, the lyrics rarely rise above the mediocre and worse, some of it is downright offensive. A caricature of an Asian nanny (complete with gong) is not made okay by the presence of an Asian cast member, and life is definitely not “Better” because you did not turn out to be the effeminate, and assumed to be gay, classmate at your high school reunion.
As important as the songs to a song cycle are the four actors (Devon Busswood, Adam Charles, Sharon Crandall and Brandyn Eddy) who must sing them. All four are likeable enough, but on opening night they all seemed to struggle at times. Most successful are Busswood and Eddy in their solo performances. Busswood is particularly good in the wild “In Short”, but is helped immensely by one of the few songs that actually builds in unexpected ways. The ensemble shines in “Be My Friend” at the après-curtain call, but it takes on an air of desperation, seemingly designed as an after-thought to leave us on a high note.
Director Ian Harmon moves his cast around as best he can in an attempt to keep things varied, but much of the show relies on the four actors simply standing or sitting as they stare into space contemplating their lives. The three piece band, led by musical director Peter Abando, is spot on.
Admittedly, I may not be the demographic for a show like Edges, but that does not mean I don’t remember what it was like to be twenty-something. If I had worried about even half of what Pasek and Paul seem to worry about in this show I’d have had an ulcer by the time I was thirty.
Edges by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Directed by Ian Harmon. Musical direction by Peter Abando. A Two Monkeys Productions presentation. On stage at Studio 1398 (1398 Cartwright St, Granville Island) until April 11. Visit http://twomonkeysproductions.com for tickets and information.