Happily Ever Chloe at the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, a workshop production of a musical by IU grads Ilene Reid and Michael Heitzman, is a very funny, gracefully executed, thought-provoking, heart-wrenching show. It's so new that they've only finished the first act and a teaser for the second-but there's already plenty to enjoy.
Chloe, Stephanie Mieko Cohen, is a child adopted by an Indiana farm couple, Henry McDaniel III and Chloe Williamson. She doesn't look like the other children. The story has the quality of a fairytale-a child finds out that she is a princess-but it touches on potent, adult themes, too: that of identity, and the resonance of the word âhome.'
The production is directed and choreographed by George Pinney, with musical direction by Terre LaBolt that shows off a strong and charming cast recruited from IU's Musical Theatre program. Of the nine songs in the first act, I especially enjoyed the energetic opener with the whole cast. "Finally" is a welcome home song during a graduation party for Chloe. It mixes joy with confusion about just what, exactly, she studied in college. Perhaps the most touching moment of the evening-and the longest applause-came as Chloe's mother sang the rueful tune "A Mother Knows."
During the first act there are two intriguing and wildly contrasting ballet scenes. The first was a silent, dark account with the whole cast re-enacting in mime the murder of Chloe's parents and the overthrow of her country. The second was a delightful account of a cleaning project, featuring a trio of royal servants performing a mop-and-broom ballet.
Happily Ever Chloe is very much in its early stages of development, but it's well worth seeing for what's already on stage. There's also the additional pleasure of an opportunity to see a work in progress.
The production is part of a two-year project. After these first performances, the writers take the results of the workshop and the audience feedback back to New York for revisions to Act One and the writing of Act Two. They'll revisit Bloomington for a reading in the spring; next summer, they'll be back for a full production around this same time of year.
At the theatre for you, I'm George Walker.