Never Far From Home
A posse of lyricists and composers (over a dozen in all) supply words and music to the latest installment in "The Cabaret Series," Never Far From Home: Love Songs About Leaving, playing through June 30 at the Central Square Theater.
Lydia Diamond provides a minimalist script that happily embraces (and gently mocks) the fantastical, imaginative exercise of stagecraft. Four performers -- Kami Rushell Smith, Cheo Bourne, Jennifer Ellis, and Brian Richard Robinson -- portray thinly fictionalized (or, if you prefer, "meta") versions of themselves.
The story focuses on Cheo’s departure for New York, where he spends his time auditioning, trying to adjust to the city, and vacillating about what to do about the fact that he’s left his boyfriend behind. Danny Abosch’s "Real New Yorker" sketches out these transitions; will Cheo remain wide eyed and entranced by his new home city, or will he become the same sort of head-down city denizen he sees all around him?
Meantime, Cheo’s three friends and colleagues get along without him as best they can, enduring their own depressing grind of auditions and the tensions that arise within any group of creative people.
Jennifer, happily married but professionally frustrated, wonders whether she should follow Cheo’s lead; the romance of her life with her husband is gorgeously evoked in Hannah Cranton’s ballad "Leave the Moon On." Kami finds romance (the red-hot "Sous Chef" by Deborah Henson-Conant is a sizzling duo that threatens to burn the place down) and fears that heartbreak, rather than happiness, will be the end result ("Who Needs a Lover," by Ariel Strasser). Brian, left behind and puzzled by Cheo’s lack of communication, frets because he doesn’t know how to respond or move forward; he and Cheo share a tender love song, "Memorized," that only gains poignancy for being shared by a same-sex couple.
These "Love Songs" aren’t all mooning, though. Paulo K. Tirol’s "Green Line Ride," the impertinent and hilariously foul-mouthed "Cast Me," and the paen to the joys of constant dissatisfaction, "Complaining," all light up the room with laughter. There’s even a jolly parody of Prince’s "When Doves Cry," more than ably performed by the show’s four-piece live band, under Tim Maurice’s music direction.
This is a sweetly entertaining, cozy cabaret experience that speaks of travel (Dahlia Al-Habieli’s set boasts suitcases and a portable typewriter) as well as the comforts of home; the set looks like a grandparents’ living room (dig the 1920s-era radio!). Director (and lyricist) Megan Sandberg-Zakian keeps things light, and drinks service to tables and seats ensures a clubby feel.
"Never Far from Home" plays through June 30 at The Central Square Theater, 450 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. For info or tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit CentralSquareTheater.org