Thursday, May 1, 2014

Review: CRE Outreach's Beyond Sight

L-R: K.J. Middlebrooks, Monica Greene, Raufel Muhammad, Christopher Loverro
and Anne Montavon. Photos by Michael Lamont

Everyone should have the opportunity to express themselves artistically. Theatre, music, dance, poetry – all forms of art stimulate growth and nurture our intuitive connection to the world around us. CRE Outreach (which stands for Create, Reflect, Empower) uses theatre as a means of artistic exploration for the visually impaired, military veterans, and at-risk youth. It also educates the public about the value of their contributions within the greater artistic community. Both are worthy endeavors.

In their latest work, two blind actors join thirteen seeing actors, including a former U.S. Marine, an Iraq War veteran, and an Air Force military brat, to present the original musical Beyond Sight at the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood.

The program credits list a multi-tasking creative team: book by Nick Sivakumaran and Jeremy Aldridge, music by Mark P. Leonard and Colin Simson, and lyrics by Greg Shane, Colin Simson and Mark P. Leonard. Aldridge directs and Leonard provides the musical direction. Allison Bibicoff choreographs. With that many people attempting to shape the piece it isn’t surprising that the result lacks focus.

The story is based on real world experiences and follows Jack (Raufel Muhammad), a young soldier who is blinded by an IED and loses ten years of his life as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan. When he is rescued and brought home he is angry, isolated, and all but paralyzed by what he can’t see. Jack struggles to overcome his PTSD, and with the help of a supportive doctor (Shannon Nelson as Dr. Linda Ness) and the woman he loves (Ginger Lawrence as Lily McCord), learns how to live his life “beyond sight.” Blind actor Robert Smith plays the older version of Jack.

It is a believable transition from the younger Muhammad to the older Smith, and while the story ultimately revolves around Smiths reintegration into the world, it is Muhammad who creates the most compelling and relatable character.

Essentially this is a workshop production of a musical that is still in the early stages of development with minimal production values (a few props and some furniture) and a cast that feels uncomfortably shoe-horned onto the stage. Most are inexperienced but the writers don’t make it easy for them. Leonard’s songs, sung to pre-recorded tracks, lack finesse and end abruptly. Lyrics are full of clichés and while the bones of the story are there, gaps in the plot and prosaic dialogue make the musical feel rudimentary. Sound issues plagued the performance I attended throughout.

And yet, there is something to be said for a work like this that asks us to view the challenges of soldiers who return from war with kinder eyes. This greater message, which reminds us that many have served our country and ensured our safety at great personal cost, is the real takeaway. Understanding is all. How we choose to see that is up to us.

Geoffrey Dwyer and Robert Smith

L-R: Sean P. Gorecki, Christopher Loverro, Craig Churchill and Tristan Bailey

L-R: Robert Smith and Sean P. Gorecki

L-R: Tristan Bailey, Ginger Lawrence, Raufel Muhammad and Monica Greene

April 25 – May 25
The Stella Adler Theatre
6773 Hollywood Blvd., 2nd Floor
Hollywood, 90028
Parking: $5 at the Jefferson Building w/ theatre validation
(garage entrance on McCadden, 1 block East of Highland)

Tickets: (310) 902-8220 or

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