Life Goes On, a musical, follows a small family well after the death of their leading figure: the father. With the anniversary of his death, our protagonist, Stacia reluctantly comes home to a family she essentially abandoned. Slowly and painfully she reconnects with her family, all the while remembering the man that was her father.
Through the father’s passing, the story does well to recognize and celebrate death, but in its eagerness it abusses it. Death follows the story everywhere, and sentimentality with it. But as every second passes one wonders what the point of exclusively feeling it really means. Are we meant to evolve past the sentimental into some existential awareness? Does the frightening idea of death mean nothing in the presence of familial love and reconciliation? Is genuine remembrance a worthwhile salve for the feeling of loss? None of these question are really answered. Although one clear question is asked and answered in the show: who do we become after the death of a family member? The answer? A tighter family.
In theory, the premise and name sake of the musical is true. Regardless of circumstance life does go on for better or worse (a literal line from the musical). But with little or no sub-plot, the idea of moving forward comes off as forced and overly sentimental. What hurts most about this is the strength of Stacia’s character. Early on, our protagonist is making strong, identity-defining decisions that introduce her and the story. But as time goes on she falls victim to the plot’s agency rather than her own. By the second act you’re mourning the could-have-been of her arc rather than the actual father. Although, truth be told, the father is one of the least important members of the show.
The father, played by Bob Beverage, exists almost exclusively as exposition to this family’s pain. The problem with this is that he comes up everywhere with little detail. The man’s death spurs so much and yet it seems like everyone is saying the same thing about him. You would think that individuals would have specific memories and feelings about the father, but because we only follow Stacia we recognize him exclusively as a part of her drama. Occasionally, the man’s comedic idiosyncrasies would come up to much laughter, but they were usually smothered by Stacia’s anger, confusion, or guilt.
This show has moments of genuine emotion and reconciliation, but when stuck with scene after scene of more or less the same these feelings don’t stand out. One feels as if they’re watching shades of white unfold in front of them, leaving a feeling of jaded cynicism at the end of the whole venture.
But have faith, for the music and singing partially redeems the story’s over sentimentality. Vanessa Gamble, both star and writer, has an authority over her range that dutifully explain the sadness, confusion, and ambivalence of mourning. Her co-star, Dee Noah, delivers a performance that pounces with energy and occasional humor. And Falicia Cunningham’s voice fills the room, penetrating row after row of pews.
I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention the stage: minimal and inviting. Art House North provides a space that was obviously once a church. They even retain the old pews. When walking inside, I felt like a kid ready and eager for Sunday mass, but instead of catholic machinations of my priest and my religion’s trademark esthetic I was dazzled with color. Life Goes On has few props and set pieces, literally a table and a few chairs, but the empty space allowed for the actors to generate reality in imagination.
On a few occasions, actors were lit with obvious intent that seemed to distract, however the work of Courtney Schmitz should be recognized. Armed with, what seemed like, little lighting infrastructure in the theater, Schmitz highlighted both real and psychological moments very well. The show’s opening and Stacia’s introduction were especially enunciated because of this.
Listen, I’m not going to beat up the show. If you enjoy feel good stories dedicated to family and love, then see this show. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy pockets of the show’s emotionality and song, but I would also be lying if I said the show earned most of these moments. If you prefer to have big ideas like death and life be as compelling as they are complex then, I can say this show is not for you.