Review: “Dandelion” at 54 Below by MAX BERRY
With music and lyrics by Colleen Francis and a book by Jessica Francis Fichter and Sean Riehm, “Dandelion” tells the story of Jane (played by Hailee Beltzhoover) as she struggles with the decision whether or not to go away to college and leave her drug addicted mother or stay and take care of her. A story of family and sacrifice at its core, “Dandelion” is a powerful piece of theatre with very real characters and great songs to match.
Colleen Francis, as the mother, Delilah, took over the stage with her mesmerizing vocals full of raw emotion. She has one of those voices that makes you think twice about whether or not you are hearing it live, only to be even more blow away when you realize that you, in fact, are. The relationship between Francis and the rest of her family was lovely to watch. Especially between her and her daughter, Jane. The brother, Jordan (played by Brendan Macdonald) brought a welcomed levity to the family’s otherwise very bleak situation. His song “Sucks to Suck”, sung in a uniquely twangy style, was a fun and refreshing break from the seriousness of the story. Another wonderful break from the seriousness was Lillie Ricciardi as Gabby, the best friend to Jane. Her goofy and determined personality was a great foil to Jane’s more reserved aspects. Her constant attempts to mend the situation and cheer Jane up were a lot of fun. Ricciardi brought a smile to my face whenever she was on stage.
Combining familiar stories, that being someone struggling with the transition to college, a family struggling with a loved one’s addiction, and a mother’s struggle to let go of her children, created a story with high stakes all around, which was great to see. However, there were a few times when I wanted to dive deeper into one of those stories but because there were many to address, there was not enough time. This most likely stems from the fact that this performance was a concert and many of the scenes were omitted. The use of the stories as presented were engaging and interesting, though I hope they give more time to the addiction and the mother’s struggles in the full version, as this version fell heavily on Jane’s journey through college. All of that was very well done, I just would have liked a little more balance as it seems the two want to share the story equally.
That being said, the portrayal of college in “Dandelion” in all its satirical glory was spot on and hilarious. It brought back dreaded memories of those first weeks of Freshman year and the much too enthusiastic students showing us the ropes. The song “Welcome to Your New Life” was lively and funny all around. Overall, all of the songs had a great sound to them and all felt very at home in the world that was created. The chorus of voices inside Delilah’s head was both chilling and beautiful in how they moved through each song like a pestering ghost she can’t get rid of. I am excited to see how the songs move through the full piece.
“Dandelion” was a very creative and striking piece of theatre and I look forward to seeing it in its entirety.
“Dandelion” featured music and lyrics by Colleen Francis with additional music and lyrics by Bill Zeffirs, a book by Jessica Francis Fichter and Sean Riem. It was developed with Haile Beltzhoover.
The show was directed by Jessica Francis Fichter and music directed by Nevada Lozano.
It featured: Hailee Beltzhoover, Colleen Francis, Brendan Macdonald, Adam James King, Lillie Ricciardi, Allison Siko, Miranda Luze, and Brianne Wylie.
It featured a band comprised of Nicholas Ujhazy on guitar, Dominic Frigo on Bass, CJ Young on drums, and Nevada Lozano on piano.
It was presented at Feinstein’s 54 Below (254 W 54th st, New York NY 10019).