WELLFLEET — Here's one way to lure seemingly aversive young audiences into theater seats: Bring the rock concert to them, even on a modest scale. "The Consequences," a musical debuting at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre after workshops at Williamstown and in New York, has an appealing homegrown air.
Songwriter Nathan Leigh has served as WHAT's resident sound designer and composer for a half-dozen years; Brooklyn playwright Kyle Jarrow, who won a 2004 Obie award for the musical "A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant" (as offbeat as it sounds), plays in indie rock bands in his spare time.
Director Kel Haney's smartest move, in putting together this 80-minute "love story in 12 songs and one short dance sequence" — as the Puckish narrator (Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte) archly describes it — was to cast Crystal Arnette, a synth-pop performer, as Ellie, a 28-year-old would-be singer-songwriter trying to make it in Portland, Ore. With her henna'd Keely Smith bob and loose limbs sheathed in amorphous jersey, Arnette looks the part; she also sounds it, carrying off guttural punkish rants and Dido-esque octave swoops with impressive panache. Arnette is also a fine actor, conveying a world of emotion even when simply standing by, silently observing.
As her romantic (maybe) counterpart and long-ago rock-band partner Jeremy, Alex Herrald is not so optimally employed. His rock-star dreams shelved, Jeremy is now, at 31, a New Jersey-based software developer verging on marriage to the unseen but dreadful-sounding Jill, a chiropractor who collects troll dolls. As the role is written, Jeremy is meant to have lost some of his youthful brio. The problem is, Herrald shows little evidence of ever having been much of a rocker to begin with, beyond some basic guitar skills: He lacks both the voice and the look. Even as Jeremy undergoes (somewhat belatedly) his quarter-life crisis, wondering about the road not taken, one can't help surmising that he might have chosen the appropriate career path after all.
This imbalance skews the play's arc toward a reconciliation, a consummation maybe not to be so devoutly wished for after all. Yet there are plenty of marvelous moments to savor along the way: for instance, the song "Mr. Walker" (a nod to that ur-rock musical "Tommy"?), in which Jeremy plots revenge against his life force-draining boss by means of escalating paper-clip pilferage, and Ellie's post-traumatic lament about a spate of soulless sex, "All That You're Touching Is Skin." In fact, all of the songs are terrific, as is the promised dance sequence, in which the narrator, something of a cosmic noodge, reenacts Ellie and Jeremy's pre-breakup relationship woes, employing Jill's collectibles.
The authors smartly thwart our expectation of a traditional denouement, suggesting instead that sporadic bursts of joy-in-the-moment may be the best outcome that any of us can truly count on. Lighthearted as it may seem on the surface, this mini-musical proves surprisingly insightful when it comes to the choices we all must face on the road to adulthood. Throw in just a dash more onstage chemistry, and there's no telling what might ignite.
Sandy MacDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org