More than six months after Philadelphia theaters closed their doors for who knows how long, the Fringe Festival has shown us how art can be reinvented, not just surviving, but thriving in its forced move to cyberspace. The trick is embracing the medium, not fighting against it. And unfortunately, Green Light Group Productions does the latter in Crossover.
Dated, to begin with
The premise of Crossover is that four women—soul singer Reggie Carlyle (Taylor J. Mitchell), EDM performer Max Green (nonbinary actor Boris Dansberry) rocker KC Paker (Chelsea Cylinder), and country crooner Hallie Harper (Ali Walker) tie in the regional finals of a national singing competition and are forced to combine forces despite their different genres, competing in the next round as Four-Way Tie (get it?) against bro-country singer Jack Tyler (Chris Murphy Smith) and presumably some other contestants that we never see or hear about.
Setting aside the fact that a four-way tie is practically impossible when millions of people are voting for their faves, I struggled from the beginning to care much about the stakes here, because after almost 20 years of TV singing competitions like American Idol, Crossover’s premise feels tired. Setting it in the early aughts might have helped somewhat here, but it wouldn’t have helped the production’s biggest flaw.
Flaws in production
Due to the pandemic, Crossover could not be performed onstage, as clearly intended. Scene after scene was meant to take place with actors sharing space, and yet each of these moments played out in small on-screen boxes instead, clearly shot at the performers’ home, on their own equipment. In editing, the sound was never balanced and color was never corrected. Some actors were loud. Some were quiet. Some appeared clearly and well lit, and some were grainy or shadowed. Most of the time, the sound at least synched up with the picture. But those times when it didn’t were so distracting that I couldn’t focus on what was actually being said or sung.
There were a few ways the limitations enforced by the pandemic might have been addressed. First, with writer Danielle E. Moore’s help, the script could have been reshaped to account for the reality of 2020: the stakes would have been much higher if the four performers of Four-Way Tie had to figure out not just how to perform together, but how to do so across cyberspace. Alternatively, Green Light Group could have presented Crossover as a lower-stakes reading, or turned Crossover into a podcast-format radio play, making all of the visual discrepancies unimportant.
But if Green Light Group was really committed to making Crossover feel like a production, they could have taken advantage of the fact that it’s now easy to get decent DIY production equipment: a small green screen, a microphone, and a ring light could’ve all been purchased for under $100, and saved this production, even with each actor working separately and edited together later. It wouldn’t have looked quite like real life, but it would have worked better than asking audiences to believe that two actors in different frames with different backgrounds and lighting were standing at the same bar.
Beyond tech issues
Although the book, lyrics, and music of Crossover still felt a little rough around the edges and the premise felt stale, Moore’s script still has a lot of promise—some of the songs are downright catchy, and I appreciated the centering of some of the characters’ queer identities.
The performers are young, and like the script itself, showed potential. But with or without the technical issues, I’m not sure the current cast could carry the show. Much of the acting is solid, but the singing is lacking. While the performers are at their best when the music calls for harmonies, when it comes to solos, Dansberry and Walker are the strongest singers of the bunch. Believing Cylinder as a powerhouse rock singer required an impossible suspension of disbelief, and because the aforementioned sound synching issue affected Miller most of all I found it hard to evaluate her performance on its merits.
Ordinarily, a pretty set might atone for a weak premise, or consistently talented actors can make up for a drab setting. But with Crossover, nothing was strong enough to save the show.
Image description: A screengrab of a performance via computer screen, with seven actors of different genders and races, each in one colorful rectangle.
What, When, Where
Crossover. By Danielle E. Moore, directed by Amanda Pasquini. Green Light Group Productions. for the 2020 Fringe Festival. September 24 through 26, 2020, part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. More info here.
Crossover offered audio description and a captioned version of the performance.