- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Have you ever seen a musical that gave you the feeling that the plot and characters were just an excuse for staging a bunch of songs? "Starting Here, Starting Now" drops the excuse entirely and prefers to string together a pastiche of songs about (mostly) romantic love.
Omitting plots and characters isn't necessarily a bad idea. With razor-thin characters and often-preposterous plots, the traditional musical often leans heavily on catchy tunes and the charm of the performers. This musical revue, running at the MetroStage's new theater in Alexandria, is all tunes with a good bit of charm mixed in. But the production — with Jay Crowder doing the musical directing and Thomas W. Jones II of Atlanta as director — lacks some key elements that would make it memorable.
The 25 songs were composed by David Shire and Richard Maltby Jr., Broadway veterans who are not well-known outside professional theater circles. The show, originally presented in 1977, has two women and one man singing a succession of solos, duets and trios. Backing them is a musical trio of pianist, bassist and percussionist.
Mr. Jones sticks to a simple set, with a few chairs and tables and the occasional candle or drinking glass. He rarely has the performers stop and sing to the audience, preferring to keep them in constant motion — a choice that covers for the duller numbers in the set.
The primary shortcoming of "Starting Here," or at least this production of it, is the MetroStage space. The theater, so new you practically can smell the drywall dust, is very audience-friendly. Although it has just 150 seats, they are tiered in a "stadium-style" arrangement so each row is about two feet above the lower row. (You may have seen this in some of the newer movie theaters around the Washington area.) The result is that there are no bad seats.
Instead of taking advantage of the intimate conditions, the performers belt out the songs as if they're in a 2,000-seat venue. Their material is solid and tuneful, and their voices are adequate, but they don't take the time to introduce themselves to the audience and establish a connection before moving on to the next song.
The two women, Cindy Hutchins and Perry Payne, seem to have trouble with the upper notes of several songs. Miss Payne was flat in a few early numbers, though she recovered by the second act. (As a side note, not everyone looks good in form-fitting, sleeveless clothing, a reality lost on the show's costumer.)
Miss Hutchins, blessed with an abundance of personality, does better when she is allowed to use her considerable volume. Her "Crossword Puzzle," about a woman dumped in favor of a dumber woman, is an arch examination of how men can feel threatened by a woman's smarts.
The lone man, Michael Sharp, lives up to his surname by outshining his stage mates. Mr. Sharp's voice is accurate and expressive, and his movements are precise and athletic. In the songs "Don't Remember Christmas" and "Flair," we see his performances flourish.
The trios work well, and the musicians and performers are workmanlike, but "Starting Here, Starting Now" lacks the personality for audiences to truly love it.

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