Lucia Spina, Halle Petro, and Ben Roseberry
in Fugitive Songs
(© Brian Prather)
Lucia Spina, Halle Petro, and Ben Roseberry
in Fugitive Songs
(© Brian Prather)
"If the scenery's not changing / Then you need a better view," sings the five-person ensemble of Fugitive Songs, Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen's song cycle about restless hearts and bodies now at the 45th Street Theatre. Directed by Joe Calarco, with musical direction by Justin Mendoza, the piece is pleasant enough to listen to, but only occasionally brings any depth to the frustrated lives of the characters it depicts.

The cast -- D.B. Bonds, Halle Petro, Todd E. Pettiford, Ben Roseberry, and Lucia Spina -- sing unamplified, backed by a four piece band. Miller's music has a folksy pop sound combined with a musical theater sensibility that is at different moments reminiscent of the work of composers Jason Robert Brown and William Finn. Tysen's lyrics center around people wanting to make a change, even if not all of them have the courage to act on that impulse.

The duo is at its best with upbeat, comic songs, although that's at least in part thanks to the outstanding performance by Roseberry, who takes the lead on two of them. "Subway Song" is an amusing tune about a guy stuck in a dead end job, working minimum wage at a Subway sandwich shop. "Wilson" is a peppy number about a stoner who unwittingly becomes the getaway driver when his equally drugged-out friend holds up a gas station. Roseberry also gets the ballad, "Growing Up," about a son's troubled relationship with his father. In each of these, the actor-singer is emotionally connected, bringing out the humor without ever losing track of the sadness at the center of each of the tales.

Fine work is also done by Spina in her solo, "Spring Cleaning," in which a woman resolves to get rid of all the stuff in her apartment she no longer wants -- including her lover. Another highlight is "Kansas Highway Sky" performed by the three male ensemble members. As they sing the rousing chorus, the openness of their voices mirrors the wide open spaces evoked in the lyrics. Petro has some good material to work with in "Don't Say Me," a portrait of an ex-cheerleader who is finally prepared to move on from her high school sweetheart. Unfortunately, she went a bit off-pitch at the performance I attended. Pettiford pushes a bit too hard in his numbers, particularly "Passing Tracy." Bonds has a lovely and powerful voice; but his solo, "Getting There," about a photo assistant who wants to take his own pictures rather than develop the ones taken by others, is rather banal.

The problem with several of the songs is that there isn't enough specificity to give the performers much to work with. For example, Bonds and Petro's duet, "Spin the Dial," about a couple drifting apart, has potential but is so general that it ultimately feels too diffuse. "Break a Branch," sung by Spina with the ensemble, is likewise so generic (in both music and lyrics) that it fails to make an impression.

Calarco's staging takes advantage of Brian Prather's two-level set to give some visual variety to the proceedings. Curiously, the two women carry around with them an iconic prop (Petro has a suitcase, while Spina has a bathrobe) throughout most of the show, while the men remain unencumbered by any literal baggage. However, what that says about any real or perceived gender differences is unclear.

With a running time of around 80 minutes, Fugitive Songs has enough charm to make it enjoyable, but it would be much improved with a little more substance.