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Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, August 14, 2019

Reviewed by Chris Struck for Cabaret Scenes

Dandelion matches the emotional highs and lows of other contemporary musicals that have dealt with a character’s psychosis. In this show, the schizophrenic mother (Delilah), much like the mother in Next to Normal, damages her family as she struggles to deal with her illness. However, for a good part of the show, Delilah keeps it together as her daughter, Jane, closes deciding on whether or not to go to college. While dealing with her schizophrenia creates issues within her family, Delilah (for a moment at least) finally sets things right during a topsy-turvy second act, in which her indecisiveness was on full display.

This story seemed fairly well thought out, and the plot meshed well with the creative team’s original songs. Much of the material was fun to listen to even outside the context of the show, such as “Sucks to Suck” (Colleen Francis/Bill Zeffiro) or “I’m Not the Perfect Daughter.” There was a sense of identity to the musical that was brought by a talented cast as well as a plot that was varied in tempo and intensity. At times I sided with Delilah early on in the first act, but those times were few. The play revolved entirely around the decision of the teenager, Jane, about whether go to Northwestern or stay home with her mother. It’s very easy to root for Jane to leave, and perhaps that’s why I found myself liking the second act much more; the ultimate decision to leave inched closer, but it was almost always just out of reach, even though Jane had Delilah’s apparent blessing.

What really made this work as a cabaret show was the performance by Colleen Francis, who played Delilah. Her unique sound had a beautifully full depth and added richness to this her portrayal of the otherwise unsympathetic Delilah. Francis was convincingly manic in showing the struggle and success in Delilah’s fight against the unseen voices. Hailee Beltzhoover (Jane) and Lillie Ricciardi (Gabby)—strong singers in their own right—worked well in tandem as friends. Gabby pushed Jane into prioritizing herself in a way that a true friend would. Beltzhoover did an exceptional job communicating both the angst and personal desire that pulled her away as well as the personal responsibility that motivated her to stay.

One fault of the show was in the references to dandelions, which were a little crude. The idea that Jane was a dandelion and could be taken up by the wind and escape was obvious. Another fault is that it was hard to connect with the character of Delilah until the second act. Still, there was solid momentum throughout the first act to support Jane, the true main character.

The music and lyrics were written by Colleen Francis and Bill Zeffiro. Jessica Francis Fichter directed; she also aided Sean Riehm in writing the book. This show seems to be nearing its final look and feel.

Chris Struck

Chris Struck's debut novel, Kennig and Gold, is due to be officially published in June 2019. He's written reviews for Cabaret Scenes since August of 2017. For more information about the writer, see StruckChris.com