No more than 15 people came out to Nautilus Music-Theater’s cozy studio space for Sunday night’s performance of “The View from Here,” a play by New York City-based playwright Timothy Huang. And that’s a crying shame. Like last year’s magnificent “Joan of Arc,” this intimately staged show points to the breadth of creative possibilities in musical theater. “The View from Here” has little to do with Broadway’s bombast and extravagant spectacle. This is finely textured musical storytelling on a human scale: an authentically affecting Everyman sort of tale, integrated into a thoughtful score bristling with intelligence and an omnivorous array of musical influences, from opera to pop to show tunes. The spare instrumentation – just trumpet and piano – isn’t mere accompaniment; it’s integral to the unfolding narrative and smartly deployed throughout.
Most of the action takes place in and around a spartan urban apartment. There’s no furniture to speak of, just “four walls (almost white, almost clean),” a door, a phone and a generous window looking out onto the city. The play opens as our protagonist, an unnamed novelist, moves in. He has come to the city hoping to find both a publisher for his first book and a fresh start. Our writer, played persuasively and with real heart by Nautilus regular Joel Liestman, pounds the pavement looking in vain for a patron; he’s a rank novice, untutored in the protocols of the publishing industry, and his efforts go nowhere. We get funny-sad songs narrating his frustrations, his thwarted dreams, as well as doggedly sunny ditties about the promise he’s sure lies just around the corner.
We get to know him through his letters home, as he writes out his feelings to (one presumes) the girl he left behind to seek his fortune. To all appearances, for more than half the play, our protagonist’s story is a deeply familiar one – a nicely handled iteration of that well-worn bumpkin-makes-good-in-the-city yarn. But then the narrative pivots in the play’s last third; it becomes clear this is a much different, much sadder story than that one, as the gravity of his past and present circumstances are fully revealed.
I’m not going to give anything else away. I want you to go see this play and for you to have the delight of discovering its unexpected depths and emotional textures. There’s one weekend left, and this soulful, cleverly told, beautifully performed bit of musical theater deserves the support of an appreciative audience.
Nautilus Music Theater’s production, “The View from Here,” with music and lyrics by Timothy Huang (book by Huang in collaboration with Elizabeth Lucas), is directed by Ben Krywosz. The production features Joel Liestman as the Novelist, with Jerry Rubino and Jim Tenbensel on piano and trumpet respectively. There are four performances left: May 24, 25, 26, 27 at 8:30 p.m. in the Nautilus Music Theater Studio, 308 Prince St, suite 250, St. Paul; 651-298-9913; nautilusmusictheater.org. Tickets are $14-16.