Little Orphan Danny is simply brilliant theatre. I went to opening night where the show was as fresh as indeed it is: first performance of an extraordinary play born of a confrontation of the truth of one’s life and directed with painful insight by Sean Daniels.
This is a musical and the music is wonderful but sometimes disturbing when it remains upbeat and happy when the lyrics have darkness: both music and words came from the hand of Dan Finnerty writing about his own experience growing up as an orphan, so he must know firsthand of the subtle tragicomic interplay of darkness and light he represents in a very human way. Perhaps the music is a sort of therapy to transcend the pain in many of the words.
Julie Foldesi is astonishing taking on all the female roles, and especially at combining the adoptive and birth mothers and being the girlfriend as well – Freud could have written a book about this! Of course, all three are in fact the same person: a loving caring person demanding that virtue triumph over tragedy and struck with trauma at doing what is right. The birth mother knew she had to give up her baby and suffered until the day or reunion. The adoptive mother, with no biological children of her own, is struck with the fear of losing a son that has become a part of her purely through the exercise of her love. The girlfriend knows she somehow must have a liberating force and reunite Dan with his birth mother without asking him – because were she to ask him, he might say no. Foldesi switches effortly from one character to the other. Sometimes the pain is too great when she does so: but so too is the joy at the ability of this show to reveal all that is best in humanity.
Dan Finnerty is not only author and protagonist but also the subject of the musical. Very brave of him to write this autobiography. And wholly successful in presenting theatre that conveys truth from beginning to end. Is he acting or being himself? Whichever may be the case, he reveals not only the normal difficulties of adolescence but the difficulties of asking who he is as an orphan and to whom his loyalties lie. He held the attention of the audience every second: there was a power to his performance than underlined how lucky we are to have such great live theatre here in Lowell, and in this case the real live presence of an actor revealing his inner soul simply cannot be replicated on other media.
Sean Daniels brought out the humor together with the tragedy with a production that focuses sharply on the principal characters and brings them together with great intimacy but never forgetting the humorous element: for one senses that one of the things that has enabled Dan Finnerty to get through a complex life is an ability to laugh.
I loved the clever projections on a screen above the action. The set was simple but evocative. The music was played with great aplomb led by music director and orchestrator Dan Lipton. And we all emerged from this great, fabulous, rarely striking as well as complex piece of theatre knowing more about ourselves and promising that its lesson can help us all make a better world.
GO SEE IT!
–Jonathan Richmond, audience member
Little Orphan Danny runs March 21 – April 15