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Onyx’s ‘Trunk Songs’ can’t elevate beyond its material

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Margaret Menzies belts out a trunk song.
Photo: Leila Navidi
Jacob Coakley

Three stars

Trunk Songs July 6, Onyx Theatre.

Trunk songs are songs that, for whatever reason, got cut from a musical before it premiered. Onyx Theatre recently resurrected some in their production of Trunk Songs, an original revue featuring the music of Jerry Sternbach, Faye Greenberg and John Kroner. Part of the problem with trunk songs (and Trunk Songs) is that, figuratively speaking, these are one-note numbers. They don’t have much to explore or much to say. There’s a reason they were cut, after all. And while Trunk Songs’ singers seemed capable, they weren’t at the top of their game to the point where they could redeem these tunes.

Margaret Menzies’ supple voice wrapped around the audience until she reached her upper registers, where she seemed to have to choose between good technique or volume. This was a problem throughout the night; when the going got rough, singers pushed through for the notes, and the results were some breaks. Certain songs also laid bare problems with phrasing and direction. Dolly Coulter rushed through and consequently jumbled “Insert Foot,” a song that demands exceptionally clear acting choices. In other areas, the show could have used a stronger directorial hand from Jay Joseph. In “All I’ll Ever Need to Know,” a duet between Menzies and Joseph, Joseph helped Menzies to a seat on the piano, but he didn’t help her by standing behind her the entire time, forcing her to sing upstage to him the entire song—and locking the audience out of the performance.

Lysander Abadia’s presence was as delightful as ever, but his voice seemed off in the second act. Kellie Wright shone throughout, and musical director Karalyn Clark had a couple of good turns, as well. But the biggest surprise was Benjamin Loewy, whose graceful baritone conveyed the right tenderness in certain numbers and was a fun comedic foil in others. Ultimately, then, while the joke songs (like “The Act,” sung by Loewy and Menzies, a tribute to the stupid things good sex will make you do) were amusing enough, and the torch songs tender (“Tell Me Why We Never Made Love,” sung achingly by Menzies), after a while it was all a little doughnuts for dinner.

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