"This is a true story, even the parts that never happened." So we're told at the beginning of The Lucky Ones - a musical by folk rock duo The Bengsons (and Sarah Gancher) produced by Ars Nova. Coming as it does before we really know what we're getting into, the line gets a hearty round of laughs from the audience. In retrospect, it takes on a deeper significance.
That's true for many of the lines in this musical, and it's a mark of how beautifully crafted this book is. In fact, the whole show is so beautifully crafted, it's less a musical and more a seamless experience that grabs you tight at the outset and never lets go until the final dimming of the lights. That's due in some part to a gorgeous script, but also in large measure to Sonya Tayeh's groundbreaking choreography, Abigail Bengson's warm stage presence, and a score that represents the best indie-folk/rock has to offer.
Directed by Anne Kauffman, The Lucky Ones is the story of Abigail Bengson's family. It starts on the first day of school as Abigail's mother cooks eggs fried in bacon fat (which quickly escalates into a catchy folk tune) and insists they'll be on time to school today. Abigail's family includes her own parents, her two older sisters, and her aunt and two cousins who live next door. (Abigail herself is a shy teenager when the story starts.) It's a large, loud, tightly-knit group who embraces free-thinking and believes "God is the space between people." At the outset, it seems beautiful. As time moves on, it appears the ideal isn't sustainable. By the end, we're left wondering if it was ever real, and if it wasn't a bit deranged. Along the way, we'll pass through moments of youthful ecstasy, spiritual awakening, shock, heartache, and finally a kind of peace.
The first scene starts off like an informal indie concert with Abigail and Shaun Bengson onstage. Microphones are set up and as the other actors slowly come out, they use the mics. But gradually the spoken dialogue morphs into song and the musicians and actors morph into characters. All at once we're aware that the mics have disappeared but we never noticed how or when.
This is a show that keeps evolving, using every available mode of storytelling, each section changing what we think we know about how the production works. Part I seems to be a radical, joyous celebration of life, youth, and family. It's incredibly staged, making brilliant use of the historic choir loft in the Connelly Theatre (once an orphanage), and using every inch of the space and every inch of every cast member's body to create the desired mood for each scene. Simply put, it's gorgeous. Then Part II explodes in a maelstrom of pain, fury, and darkness (once again with that incredible choreography). And later the piece changes again: becoming less physically charged, gentler, without losing any of its emotional force. Seamless, deep, and artistically inspiring, The Lucky Ones is theatre at its very best.