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Heaven Can Wait

Glorious songs and all, RTP's "Company of Angels" is still a work in progress.

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With a gospel choir of angels, mentally challenged community college students, and a Shakespearian wannabe, Richmond Triangle Players' latest venture is in keeping with their reputation of performing risky theater. But is the ambitious "Company of Angels" any good?

For the first time in Richmond Triangle's history, it has allowed an artist to workshop a production, presenting a work in progress to find the show's faults and assets. Author and director Julie Fulcher-Davis has presented a musical with a lot of heart, but plenty of problems as well.

The play starts off with a quick number by Toby (Robyn O'Neill), a struggling actor about to teach a community college theater class. She is in need of an emotional rescue, and who better to provide that than a team of angels? After quibbling over who gets to save Toby, the seraphic six descend upon her classroom for a spiritual intervention.

The acting and singing is wonderful all around, and some of the musical numbers are excellent, but the show itself needs some serious work.

The first problem that needs to be fixed is with the musical's convoluted plot. The audience needs more of an introduction to Toby, the main character, before we start hearing anything about angels. We need to establish that Toby is wounded, that her life is a mess and that she is in need of saving. Without this, the show loses much of its emotional footing.

After this point is set up, then we can jump to the angels watching her struggle. Jumping between heaven and earth a few times could further drive the point home that the story is about Toby, and not about the angels. After her initial number, we don't see Toby again until the first act is halfway over.

The show also has too many characters. Scott Melton and Terri Moore put in excellent performances as two auxiliary angels, but their characters do little to advance the story. One could argue for the removal of these characters.

"Angels" also suffers from Arthur Miller syndrome -- having too many characters on stage that aren't being utilized. Especially in the second act, there are normally only two or three characters actually performing the action, while the other half-dozen simply watch.

But the show has its rewards too. The power ballad, "The Big One" is gorgeous, and "Angels on the Earth" is a show-stopping gospel number that would get even an atheist's foot tapping. Chloe Williams is amazing in her role as Diva, the Aretha Franklin of the clouds, and the rest of the cast is excellent as well.

A tear-jerking scene in the second act shows that this musical has some power, but it still needs to be tamed and worked on, which is exactly what these sort of workshops are supposed to do. If Fulcher-Davis and company can fix this musical's problems, they might very well have a hit on their hands.

The Richmond Triangle Players' "Company of Angels" runs July 30-Aug. and Aug. 5-7. Tickets are $15. For information visit rtriangle.org or call 346-8113.

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