The world premiere of the GrooveLily musical Wheelhouse, presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at the Mt. View PAC, opened this week to tepid reviews. For the record, the creative team is GrooveLily (book, lyrics and music), Lisa Peterson (direction), Kate Edmunds (sets), Tanya Finkelstein (costumes), Steven B. Mannshardt (lights), Jason H. Thompson (projections), and Kris Umezawa (sound). The cast comprises GrooveLily, who are Gene Lewin, Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda.
Robert Hurwitt (S.F. Chronicle): It’s great to see co-authors and composers Valerie Vigoda, Brendan Milburn and Gene Lewin back onstage, and the very pleasant Wheelhouse has its inspired moments. But not enough. … Wheelhouse is a band autobiography in the form of a road trip. But it’s a trip without a clear destination. … Wheelhouse works best as a showcase for the considerable talents of Vigoda on electric violin, Milburn (her husband) on keyboards … and Lewin on cleverly varied percussion (his use of staplers, paper clips and a pencil sharpener is a treat). … And even if their characters are fairly two-dimensional, Vigoda, Milburn and Lewin are engaging performers. They just haven’t developed a story as captivating as they deserve.
Chad Jones (Theater Dog): I found Wheelhouse uninteresting. Nice but bland. … There’s nothing remotely offensive about Wheelhouse, nor is it in any way unpleasant, save for its intelligent banality. This is smart music made by talented people, but it doesn’t feel inspired. Nor does it ever rise above a pleasant level to become anything authentically dramatic or gripping. They don’t traffic in clichés, nor do they every do anything that well and truly surprises. … While GrooveLily may be a tight band, the members are not great actors (even though they’re playing themselves). Then again, they haven’t written themselves roles that require much exploration. … I have to say I was relieved when this musical road trip came to an end.
Karen D’Souza (Mercury News): The road to hell is paved with recreational vehicles in Wheelhouse. … The freewheeling 90-minute musical feels like a work in progress in which the concert elements are smooth sailing but the dialogue hits a few potholes. The bandmates play themselves with candor and humor and insight, but the musical, which has a minimalist concert-like staging, lacks narrative drive. Make no mistake, as a band, GrooveLily rocks as hard as ever with their irresistibly quirky sound, but the narrative spins its wheels. … Here, it’s the score that steals the show not the characters. The director does keep the tempo supercharged, and the band can definitely bring it on musically, but Wheelhouse hasn’t yet found it groove.