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“Once Around the Sun” Takes Off at the Zipper

Photo by Jason Woodruff

“Once Around the Sun”
Directed by Jace Alexander
The Zipper Theatre
336 West 37th St
Mon., Wed. thru Fri. at 8 p.m., Sat. at 5 and 9 p.m., Sun. at 3 and 7 p.m.
$60 Telecharge.com (212) 239-6200 or visit www.OnceAroundTheSun.com.
Opened July 27, closes Sept. 18
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Aug. 9, 2005

These days we’re seeing so many shows on and off-Broadway that deal with the music business a new one should come as no surprise. But most of them (“Lennon,” “All Shook Up,” “Good Vibrations”) are derived more or less from the lives of celebrities with well-established songbooks. Happily this new one has an original plot and score.

Admittedly, Kellie Overbey’s book for “Once Around the Sun” does not burst with new themes, plots and subplots. Her story, about an aspiring artist who rises to the top by abandoning his friends and relatives and betraying his art only to realize in the end that he has lost his soul, is as old as Faust and probably older. (Think Icarus.) But Overbey’s wicked sense of irony, Jace Alexander’s skilled direction and Robert and Steven Morris and Joe Shane’s scintillating score raise this show far above the run-of-the-mill.

If Once Around the Sun has one weakness, it’s the star, Asa Somers (“Taboo,” “Dance of the Vampires,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) who plays Kevin Stevens the wannabe rock star. Somers has said he didn’t have to research the role because he’s lived the part. He was especially excited that he would get to play his own electric and acoustic guitars in the play.

Somers should have known better. His lackluster portrayal of a young man who is almost destroyed by his own ambition is totally without a defining personality.

Fortunately, Somers is surrounded by excellent supporting actors and a beautiful, belting leading lady, Maya Days (“Aida,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Rent’) who plays the sexy, has-been singer Nona Blue.

John Hickok is funny, likable and sad as Kevin’s Uncle Lane. He also has a terrific voice that has range and power. His shifts from the slick bandleader presiding over the festivities after the wedding of Abraham and Soo Chi Rosenberg to the drunken and disillusioned failure are smooth and convincing.

Kevin Mambo and Jesse Lenat both excel in dual roles. Mambo plays Kevin’s friend and fellow band member Ray, as well as the hip-hop singer Waldo (his pseudo-rap number “G-I-R-L” brings the house down). Lenat plays another friend and member or the band, the pot-smoking neo-hippie Dave, and Guy Lomax, an irreverent caricature of a sleazy music mogul.

Jason Lyons’ lighting and Beowulf Boritt’s minimal set work together very effectively to turn the theater into a rock concert hall. But in the end it’s the music that triumphs. Mostly rock and pop, Morris, Morris and Shane’s score also has hints of country, jazz and even klezmer. It is both entertaining and memorable.

Once Around the Sun is certainly Broadway material. Just in case it’s Broadway-bound, see it now while the price is right. [Simmons]

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