Once Around the Theatre: Sizzling New Show Hits Off-Broadway

If location is any indication of the show to come, “Once Around the Sun” would receive rave reviews just upon entering the theatre.

The Zipper Theatre, aptly named for its location in Manhattan’s fashion district, is tucked away on West 37th Street. Car seats take the place of the usual red velvet found on Broadway, and the space lacks the sumptuousness of most theatres, sporting plain concrete walls and floors. There is little to no set, relying heavily on the actors to convey the story. The only exception is a projector that shows clips of Kevin Steven’s growing fame and romance with record executive Nona Blue. The small area creates an intimate feel. The main stage is flanked by lofts that bring the actors up close and personal with the crowd in the balcony. In several scenes the actors pop up amongst the audience.

Following Stevens for a year, we witness the ramifications of his decision to travel to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. The show is staged as a concert interspersed with witty dialogue, the scenes melting into one another seamlessly. The audience is treated to a performance under the pulsating blue and pink lights of the rock band B-Side (“It’s All Music”). Following the band to another dead end gig as wedding entertainment, we learn that although they have the will, they do not have the way to succeed. When presented with the opportunity to jump start his career, Kevin grabs at it, although he has to leave his band and fiancee in the process. His experience gives new meaning to the cautionary tale “be careful what you wish for,” as he finds himself trapped in a bogus contract and without a true friend in sight.

Lead Asa Somers sets more than a few female hearts pitter pattering every night. Accustomed to musicals with a rock core (“Taboo,” “Rocky Horror Show”), Somers slips into the role with ease. To his credit, Somers is a comedic actor as well as a terrific singer. One scene depicts Kevin searching for a way to market himself effectively. He runs the gamut from boy band clone (ironic since he is a Nick Carter look-alike or a careful plot device?), screeching head banger, twanging country singer, to profanity spewing rapper.

Maya Days (“Aida” veteran) gives a brilliant performance as one time diva cum executive Blue who lures Kevin away from New York. Her voice thrills as always, but she leaves her customary part of romantically challenged heroine to Caren Lyn Manuel (Skye) who attacks the role with refreshing strength.

John Hickok, another former “Aida” star, is the embittered uncle who gave up his dream of fame in favor of family duty. Band mates Jesse Lenat (Dave) and Kevin Mambo (Ray) take on the responsibility of dual roles (Guy and Waldo respectively) and practically steal the show with their eccentric personas. Lenat plays a philosophical stoner and a sleazy executive while Mambo pokes fun at the new sensation of American Idol icons with his Waldo. His number “G.I.R.L.” adequately portrays the new generation’s idea of music (repetitive lyrics coupled with gyrations while wearing flamboyant outfits).

Like its cast,”Once Around the Sun” is versatile enough to take on several styles of music and to explore the reaches of what we know to be musical theatre, effortlessly outshining the competition and reinventing the word.