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"After the Fair"

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After the Fair, based on a Thomas Hardy story, has only four characters, even though its situations often cry out for more, and feels in general like the musical-comedy equivalent of home movies. This would matter less if Stephen Cole's book and lyrics, and Matthew Ward's music, were less earthbound. Or have there been just too many shows where people write letters to one another from one end of the stage to the other, not to mention one person's composing another's love letters with unhappy consequences?

Correspondence may also have figured in the lives of the cast, who speak with correspondence-course British accents. As a stiff husband, David Staller backs up an impressive-sounding bio with a much less impressive performance; James Ludwig plays a rising barrister as perhaps the sixth of those seven brothers in another show expecting mail-order brides. Jennifer Piech is a spirited serving wench but behaves more like her mistress's spoiled brat than like her maid. As her unhappily married employer, Michele Pawk comes off best, but either Travis L. Stockley's direction or James Morgan's unit set makes her seem too reined in, even a bit stilted. Every song sounds like a somewhat tuneless reprise, albeit not of itself; one is entitled "Nothing Will Ever Be the Same," although disproof lies close at hand.


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