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The promise of 11th Hour Theatre Company’s streaming production of Home Fries at Home: Music for the Soul, starring Elena Camp and Rajeer Alford, is right there in the title. We are at Elena and Rajeer’s home, where they’re going to perform for us, tell us some stories, and make home fries. It all adds up to a relaxed night with friends. This is where things get odd.
Having set up a very clear path through the piece, Camp and Alford proceed to disregard it. For example, every section, whether sung or not, is prerecorded and edited, undermining the informality they announce. I can understand technical reasons to record certain pieces, but the fact that the performers live together opens up the possibility of live performance, an opportunity they fail to take.
Camp’s clear, agile, Barbara Cook-esque lyric soprano is on display throughout the evening, and she shows her impressive gifts to best advantage on “Inside Out” from A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. I wanted to hear more of her operatic talents and wished a song with bigger emotional punch, such as “Almost Real” from The Bridges of Madison County, had been added to the evening. The standout duet is “First Date / Last Night” from Dogfight, but the most interesting and compelling piece of the evening is “Words,” an a cappella piece by Sweden’s The Real Group presented in a manner faithful to the original.
Alford, also the accompanist and arranger, while not possessing the extraordinary vocal chops of Camp, boasts a solid baritenor, which he uses to great effect when blending with his partner. Alford’s version of “The Room Where It Happens” from Hamilton could have been the 11 o’clock number this evening needed. Unfortunately, it comes up just short, which brings us to the second major problem with the evening.
A flattened dynamic
Alford chose a very smooth and jazzy arrangement style for the show, which supports the professed theme of the evening: a light, mellow groove for a laidback night. However, not all of the songs chosen work when arranged this way. The arrangement of “The Room Where It Happens” flattens the emotional dynamics of the song so thoroughly that I saw an Aaron Burr who, instead of needing to be in the room, would have very much enjoyed it were he permitted.
A similar problem befalls the duet of “No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods. The arrangement creates a song that’s purely lullaby, and while that is certainly part of the song, it misses the guts of it. The song is also a spell cast against the existential darkness in the metaphorical woods: we’re alone but believe that someone is looking out for us. Because the arrangement minimizes this inner struggle, the song becomes saccharine.
Conversational interludes in the basement, while heartfelt and tackling knotty subjects, represent another missed opportunity to add immediacy to the show by going live. The seriousness of the subjects covered (like losing a loved one to Covid-19) are at once important and in direct opposition to the theme of the show. If that’s the point—artifice lives upstairs but the basement is for truth-telling—it must be made much more clearly.
None of this is to say that I didn’t enjoy the show. The singing is lovely. Because Camp and Alford are so prodigiously talented, and demonstrate such clear vision, the failure to deliver on the promise of the show becomes all the more obvious. It’s a fun evening, but it could be so much more. And yes, the home fries looked great.
Image description: A photo of Rajeer Alford and Elena Camp. They are smiling lovingly at each other, standing outside at the base of a curving metal staircase at the end of a Philadelphia pier.
What, When, Where
Home Fries at Home: Music for the Soul. By Rajeer Alford and Elena Camp. Streaming on demand ($15) through May 2, 2021. 11thhourtheatrecompany.org.
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