SALT LAKE CITY — When Aretha Franklin was asked during an interview what she thought of Taylor Swift as a singer, she simply replied “beautiful gowns”. Fate? with its under baked plot and one dimensional characters elicits a similar response. I saw Fate? at the Grand Theatre on February 8th, 2023. Fate?’s music and lyrics are by Perry Gordon Fine and the Original Blue Healers with the book by Perry Gordan Fine and Nick Dunn. The best parts of the play are more or less the perks of live theater. There’s a live band that plays for all the musical numbers, and the use of lighting by designer Drew Bielinski throughout with some scenes creates a powerful impression. One such scene is when Rogi DeSilva-King – played by Caleb Hunt and Jacqui Goldman-Reynolds – played by Azalea Teuton are playing Romeo and Juliet and the entire stage is dark except a single, bright spotlight on the two of them. The use of a single light keeps the audience focused on the lovers.
Other than that, it’s just “beautiful gowns” for the rest of the performance. The play opens up with an announcement about rival teams the Trojans and the Spartans who appear complete with matching and color coordinated outfits. This sets the stage for a play about high schoolers until the opening number reveals that everyone is graduating and have gotten into college or conservatory. In what appears to be both an attempt to accommodate the band while having a stage that can be used for multiple purposes, there aren’t really any sets. The actors utilize a roll out bed, but otherwise, the stage is bare for dancing or sitting throughout the various musical numbers and it’s easy enough to imagine all the things that happen because all the characters do is talk or sing as they sit or stand.
The students are set to stage a production of Romeo and Juliet, and characters Rogi and Jacqui are auditioning for the respective roles. Despite having only passed each other by at a party, they seem to have this instant chemistry that everyone notices. In a fit of misplaced, incoherent jealousy that would make Severus Snape proud, Dr. Prince, played by Sean J. Carter decides to cast the lesser talent Mercer as Romeo. I think this is what the play is about. No one in the entire play seems to want anything specific to their characters; naturally, at a conservatory for actors, the students want to get cast in a show, but that’s about it. If their desires are nestled deep within the numerous songs throughout the performance, the audience is worst off for it.
The strength of Adam Day’s sound design were the creative choices, such as using live music and creating a party atmosphere. The downside was the execution of the design. Due to the live music, and sound issues throughout, it was difficult to hear actors singing even though everyone is fitted with a mic. Not unlike my experience with the Grand’s production of A Christmas Carol, it was very hard to catch lyrics to songs. During a party scene right after Rogi and Jacqui arrive to the school, the mic they use for karaoke doesn’t work! I couldn’t tell if this was a design choice, a script function, or a technical failure, but it didn’t read with the other sound issues in the production. When the mic fails one of the actors hands out a new mic that isn’t much better. Dr. Prince’s solo songs and the live band elevated the sound throughout the show, but sound was not a strength of this production.
The wardrobe for Fate? lacks any sense of time or place. In the opening, Jacqui’s outfit of black jeans, black top, and a red ribbon in her hair reminded me of the 1959 style of Grease. There are two dancers at the school who are dressed like extras from an 80s work out video. Some of the ensemble characters are dressed like its the 90s – large, shapeless shirts, straight pants, with converse sneakers abound while another character looked like a 90s grunge ensemble. It wasn’t until the play moves on to the production of Romeo and Juliet that I became significantly more satisfied with Shannon McCullock’s costume design.
Jamie Rocha Allan’s directing doesn’t stand out except in small moments between characters, such as when Mercer, played by Gabe Root attempts to fist bump Julie and Rosy, played by Quinn Hasenkamp, gently pats his hand away in his failed flirting attempt. Both of the leads have gay parents – Jacqui has two moms and Rogi has two dads – and there is a good degree of motivated physical intimacy between the parents. Beyond these token interactions, the play felt dry. The script is so bare bones, there isn’t anything to hold on to. The choreography by Jessica Pace is uninspired and but the dancing from the performers themselves was lifeless in producing her choreography. Considering how much of the acting rests on the shoulders of just five characters – this is extremely feasible to do for the ensemble.
The production had high points as well. I liked Hunt’s portrayal of Rogi. Out of all the actors, his character felt the most solid in a way no one else’s did. The script doesn’t give him a lot to do, and due to Allan’s directing, the actor plays Rogi pretty straight but Hunt was one of the stronger singers and his character is more relevant to the plot than Jacqui’s.
Simply put, Fate? is a musical that didn’t feel destined to succeed from the script’s beginnings. Perhaps it was written in the stars that this creative team wouldn’t be able to work a miracle from a dead script, but I don’t know that Fate? will be in my future.