"A kind of all-souls hootenanny...'Spoon River' is a feel-good show, a memento mori only in that it encourages its audiences to gather their rosebuds while they may. What’s most impressive here is the diversity of Mr. Ross’s songs and Mr. Schultz’s staging, and the ingenuity with which they match character to melody and stance...The production is a shade overstuffed and repetitive...Still, there’s a winning generosity in having these alternatives." Full Review
"Composer Mike Ross has set several of Masters’s poems to rollicking, foot-stomping tunes...Adapters Albert Schultz (who also directs) and Ross have selected a sweet bouquet from the anthology’s 244 poems...In a universally strong cast, a few performers match their material so perfectly it’s nearly painful...Still, the most powerful moments are the massed ones, when the company fills the stage. The volume alone of so many people in so small a space is thrilling." Full Review
"A lively, joyful musical adaptation...Much of what Ross has composed is what used to be called hillbilly music, but that doesn’t do justice to the range of genres and the depth of talent that put them over...There is humor lurking in the grim tales and sad regrets voiced by individual characters...If the pile-on of graveyard observers starts to feel too rich, and the songs too repetitive, what will surely remain a fond memory after theatergoers depart are the rompin’, stompin’ hootenannies." Full Review
"A mash-up of tone poem and folk opera...Although there’s almost no interaction among the singing corpses, a portrait – complex, rich and varied as life – does emerge. Credit for this goes not only to the ingenious staging but to an exceptionally talented roster of actors, at once united and varied. That’s perhaps the most salient element on display in this Soulpepper bonanza: a unity of purpose and commitment from artists who have grown together." Full Review
"A stellar and talented group of actors are there singing and saying what they need to say...It’s a show about death and dying, but you’d never know by the liveliness and exuberance the music and the cast give off. There are too many wonderful moments and songs to even try to categorize...The whole piece just has such tremendous fun with death, that one can’t help but celebrate along with them the great gift of life...A joyous ninety minutes." Full Review
"This adaptation is top-notch, honoring the original poems of Edgar Lee Masters yet giving them a freshness and vitality that reverberates with authenticity and reflects the mid-World War I fears of mortality and survival. Albert Schultz’s staging is strong and exceptional and Mike Ross’s music is emotionally rich, passionate, and often mesmerizing. The ensemble cast seems to welcome the music into the depth of their sinews and delivers the songs with riveting and polished performances." Full Review
"All of the stories are set to Ross's mostly foot-stomping, toe-tapping lively score, filled with the sounds of American folk music, Appalachian bluegrass, New Orleans funeral parades, and gospel. The uniformly strong cast not only sing and tell their stories but also perform splendidly on fiddles, banjos, mandolins, guitars, bass, and rhythm instruments. All in all 'Spoon River' is a joyful and fitting production." Full Review
1"While each segment is engaging and the individual stories never fail to fascinate, the abundance of characters becomes overwhelming...It doesn’t introduce a traceable plotline, As a result, while satisfying as a visual and auditory experience, it doesn’t make a lasting impression...The musical arrangements are masterfully crafted...It’s a feast for the ears...The genius set and lighting design also add dimension to the piece. I was hoping for focus, or a point of view." Full Review
"One of the most memorable and transformative theatrical moments I have experienced in live theater. Indeed, from start to glorious finish this production is truly what the best of live theater is about...This incredible production holds many beautiful truths. They begin and end in artistic genius; with the unified elements of brilliant music, the sterling voices of the talented, superb actors, the musicianship of cast members, the enlightened adaptation by Schultz of Edgar Lee Masters’ work." Full Review
"This exhilarating, 95-minute musical features 19 top-flight actor-musicians, including the versatile Ross...Much of the score of 'Spoon River' has a classic country sound...All of it is appealing and much of it beautiful...Ross, Schultz, and the Spoon River company have transformed Masters' morose masterpiece into a gift of joy for New York. Let's hope the Soulpepper crew will plant their maple leaf flag in the Big Apple on a frequent basis." Full Review
"In this version of 'Spoon River Anthology,' those souls are brought back to life in a sizzling thrill ride that packs quite a punch...It’s a brilliant piece of theater–the kind you might one day look back on and remember as one of the best things you ever saw. Soulpepper’s production is the perfect storm of elements yielding a theatrical ne plus ultra...The cast is a wonderment. All (or nearly so) are multi-instrumentalists who sing well, move well, emote brilliantly and make astounding music." Full Review
"An inclusive, but lavish display of what theatre is about; both reflecting and inspiring humanity...'The Graves,' 'Couples,' and 'Soul Alive' are just a few of the gorgeous, roaring tracks that ignite audience’s imaginations...The cast of 'Spoon River' is absolutely exceptional. Each person shines in voice and talent...I cannot describe the sentimentality of this musical, and how it has become one of the best shows to see in New York." Full Review
"I detest most musicals, but this one I loved. The music was genuine and of high quality...Clearly the composer is fully at home in setting Masters’ irregular free verse...The various members of the cast showed what splendid, resourceful, gutsy actors and singers they are, as they led us to some very dark places...This was a richly entertaining, deeply moving celebration of life...One cannot sufficiently praise the consistently brilliant and committed cast and all participants." Full Review
for a previous production "Schultz has marshalled a number of memorable images with a few versatile set pieces...While it’s wonderful to have such a large cast on stage, Schultz is better at showing us the trees than the forest—and the larger numbers sometimes feel like poetry in commotion...My consistent quibble with Ross’s overall project is that poems are not lyrics—and no matter how sensitive his settings, the words sometimes jar with the music...‘Spoon River’ works, nevertheless; it’s even magical." Full Review
for a previous production "A celebration of the power of theatre, the joy of performing and the sublime art of collaboration...The way that Mike Ross’s music reaches inside our spirits and takes us to a dozen different places is an act of sheer theatrical legerdemain...Every last member of the company is brilliant...You will be hard-pressed not to levitate from your seat with sheer emotion....'Spoon River' is a once-in-a-lifetime show. See it, hear it, celebrate it." Full Review
for a previous production "Vocally thrilling, this current production captivates our hearts and emotions and soars through the rafters with impeccably controlled precision and timing...I do have a slight quibble with the text, nevertheless, as these numerous glimpses and brief looks into the backstories become a jumble in trying to make connections to the characters. It is only a minute quibble as the musical score paints an emotional landscape through song...There is a state of grace in each performance." Full Review
for a previous production "Masters’ poems are substantial enough to work dramatically, yet simple enough to be understood when sung or spoken rather than read. It’s a further strength that many of them are spoken; Ross’s musical settings are brilliant, and stylistically varied, but they’re all the more effective for not being continuous...If one of the functions of an adaptation is to send you back to the original — well, this one did that for me, and what I found was richer than I’d remembered." Full Review
for a previous production "While not every number succeeds, you’ll lose count of the many magical moments...Ross’s music—a blend of reels, slow waltzes, honky-tonk numbers and ebullient toe-tapping dance songs, played and sung by the large company—is a treat, too. The design is wonderfully atmospheric, Ken MacKenzie’s moonlit space of trees and rounded steps allowing the characters, in Erika Connor’s period costumes, to flow smoothly in and out of the action." Full Review
for a previous production "By and large, I really enjoyed the music for this show...The actors sing with a bit of a rasp and a country twang. The music is much grittier than what you’re used to hearing in the theatre and it feels all the more earnest for it...I do feel that ‘Spoon River’ loses out a bit by not having much of an arc. The show went by very quickly...I liked watching it and would recommend it. But it’s a shame that to me this was a great show that falls short of being truly exceptional." Full Review
See it if you're a fan of the Masters work, you like ensembles that can bring to life a multitude of characters and a broad range of music, esp. folk
Don't see it if you wouldn't like a story told by town residents from their graves, you have a hard time being able to hear sung lyrics
See it if a musical that takes place in a graveyard & is a series of vignettes where those buried there sing or talk about their previous lives
Don't see it if you need a narrative, don't want actors playing multiple roles including playing instruments, don't want a musical staged in a graveyard
See it if you are curious about how the story unfolds, like talented singer/instrumentalists and have patience with a repetitive script
Don't see it if you are looking for insight into the stories of the individuals portrayed, want a varied musical experience
See it if you are a fan of Masters's poems. This production adds a delicious score and stellar performances. Amazing choral work. Viva Soulpepper!!
Don't see it if you don't like musicals or inventive theatre. You can't deal with vignettes or a linear story
See it if you enjoy bluegrass music, outstanding singers, and a complex, moving story about life and death.
Don't see it if you're looking for a big, showy musical. This show has heart but you need to look past the imperfections to truly appreciate it.
See it if You enjoy bluegrass-style musical interludes interspersed with stories, and enjoy being transported. It's a period piece, early 20th century
Don't see it if You prefer a linear storyline and full character arcs. This is anecdotal, and characters are introduced but not connected, vignette-style.
See it if you enjoy a character-driven ensemble piece, and don't mind that there is no narrative (but there IS good music).
Don't see it if the lack of a narrative bothers you. Without one, I tended to tune in and out as different characters told their stories.
See it if You like a mix of folk, Appalachia, gospel, and rhythmic, stage-shaking percussion.
Don't see it if If you don’t like poetry. The script is based on poems so the “dialogue” sounds more affected than in a naturalistic play.
See it if You like blue grass music, - short vignettes or songs about life and death, without a plot to move the story. A la "Cats" w/o choreo &story
Don't see it if Like me, you prefer a plot based experience. I was bored, didn't find anything profound, & didn't have time to get invested in characters.
See it if You enjoy story telling in small clever vignettes. The songs are soulful and beautiful. This is an enjoyable evening out.
Don't see it if You want a full out Broadway musical. This was quiet and moving.
See it if you liked Come From Away. This show is a great a new-take on a traditional piece. The very talented SoulPepper group has created (more)
Don't see it if you're not in the mood for something new in theater.
See it if All-in-fun spookiness as graveyard spirits recount humorous stories from their lives. Good musicianship.
Don't see it if You are looking for something more dramatic or meaningful. This is a series of disconnected vignettes.
See it if You like Spoon River or Our Town; enjoy bluegrass music; like quirky shows with excellent acting by large casts of unknown actors
Don't see it if You prefer typical shows or are uncomfortable with the subject of death
See it if You enjoy short stories on an array of characters, told by wonderful performers. You enjoy brief but rich glimpses into historical lives.
Don't see it if You prefer one strong thread of narrative instead of separate individuals' stories.
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