Review: “Dandelion” at Feinstein’s/54 Below by Anthony J. Piccione
Over the course of the past decade, more and more attention has rightfully been given in the arts to the issue of mental health. While they arguably do little more than scratch the surface of these vital issues, Next to Normal and Dear Evan Hansen have indeed done a service by at least shining a bit of light on a topic that perhaps isn’t always exposed to mainstream theatergoers. This week at the legendary Feinstein’s 54 Below, attendees were treated to a concert reading of Dandelion, the latest musical to try and follow in their footsteps.
The show tells the story of Delilah, a college student at Northwestern University, as she deals with issues of anxiety and addiction, often taking the shape of literal “voices” in her head, which – as cliché an idea as it might be (Inside Out, anyone?) – is a concept that I think many people can relate to, at least metaphorically, to some level or another. The reading I saw was abbreviated from 2 hours to 75 minutes, and therefore, it’s hard to assess just how in-depth into mental health issues the complete story goes into beyond the songs displayed in the concert. In any case, I appreciate the attempt to shine a bit of light on the topics of mental illness and drug addiction, and I’m sure college-aged audience members – or for that matter, any Millennial who remembers that time in their life – will especially find aspects of this story to be relatable.
The musical score is quite delightful, with songs like “Sucks to Suck” and “Throwin’ me Away” standing out as particularly catchy, and the penultimate musical number – named after the show itself –being very emotional, although if it were a bit longer, perhaps it could have made an even bigger impression. It is performed nicely by an ensemble of talented singers, with lead actors Hailee Beltzhoover and Colleen Francis proving to be very soulful and having fairly impressive range.
The only true complaint I have about the music, and this is more of a general issue that I’ve noticed is common with Broadway-style musicals that attempt to deal with mental illness, is that the often joyful and jazzy songs that accompany traditional musicals don’t exactly fit with such dark and heavy issues that are being dealt with in real life. Such scores typically do a better job at complimenting musicals with happier themes and plotlines, but as someone who has dealt with mental health problems in his own life, it would be refreshing to see composers be a bit more imaginative, stylistically speaking, in terms of coming up with suitable music to go with such stories.
It’s hard to judge musicals such as these when they’re still in the development stage, given that a major part of their appeal is often rooted in sheer spectacle. However, based on what I’ve seen this week, there’s a lot of promise here. Given the catchy music, along with the fact that it touches on some very relevant subject matter, I can certainly see its potential appeal to a wide audience. It will be interesting to see the show develop further…
“Dandelion” stars Hailee Beltzhoover, Colleen Francis, Brenden Macdonald, Adam James King, Lillie Ricciardi, Allison Siko, Miranda Luze & Brianne Wylie.
“Dandelion” is written by Colleen Francis, Bill Zeffiro (music and lyrics), Jessica Francis Fichter and Sean Riehm (Book). The show is directed by Jessica Francis Fichter and was developed with Hailee Beltzhoover, featuring musical direction by Nevada Lozano, band members Nicholas Ujhazy (guitar), Dominic Frigo (bass), CJ Young (drums), and Nevada Luzano (piano), and publicity courtesy of Jay Michaels Arts & Entertainment.
“Dandelion” ran for one night only at Feinstein’s/54 Below, located at 254 W 54th Street, New York, NY, on August 14th.