The Ocean Beach Playhouse is an ideal location for Circle Circle dot dot to stage the world premiere acoustic musical, No Place Like Home. Just walk a few feet away from the theatre and you might run into several homeless people who are not too different from the offbeat characters in the show.
Inspired by stories of residents of PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), the plot primarily focuses on Daisy (Artistic director of CCdd, Katherine Harroff), a nineteen-year-old San Diegan who has cerebral palsy. She is forced to leave her residence after her Mormon father (Michael Nieto) and his wife (Stacey Hardke) kick her out following a heated verbal argument.
Daisy becomes friends with other homeless individuals, including the upbeat and eccentric Chris (Jon Huckaby), the goodhearted Mary (Taylor Wycoff) and her bipolar husband, Gabriel (Technical/managing director of CCdd, Patrick Kelly). Despite many hardships, they try to maintain an upbeat attitude surviving on the streets of the city.
Although CCdd has been performing original work for a couple of years, No Place Like Home is the first ever musical provided by the organization. It comes as a surprise that it took this long to have one made, because opening night was full of energy and confident performances.
The writers and directors, Soroya Rowley and Andrew Steele, were gutsy and bold in their decision to explore subject matter that is not usually featured in musical theatre. While some musicals in the past such as Rent featured homeless people in supporting roles, I cannot think of a singing and dancing hit off the top of my head where they were the protagonists.
The two of them wrote songs, with some additional material from Kelly and Mathew Steele, that do not sound like big Broadway showstoppers. Though there are some toe tapping crowd pleasers, the music is written to authentically reflect the kind of music played by actual artists living on the streets.
Justin Warren Martin’s gritty graphic design and Chris Vecchio’s costumes create the seedy world of the vagrants. These elements allow the audience to quickly believe that the main actors/musicians are penniless.
Harroff captures the agonizing emotional pain of someone who has to adjust to a new life against their will. In her own way, she goes through the five stages of grief, if not in the particular order of the Kubler-Ross model. Seeing Harroff react differently to many of the situations going on contributes to her appearance as a fleshed out person.
Huckaby has perhaps the trickiest role to play, because he has to make Chris an endearing companion for Daisy, even after some unsettling revelations about his past are uncovered. The performer goes above and beyond to make this possible with a Jim Carrey-esque sense of mischief, a twinkle is his eye, as well as with his powerful singing and guitar playing skills.
The rest of the cast have a lot to contribute to the theatrical piece. Wycoff, Kelly, Hardke, Nieto and co-writer/director Steele harmonize well in songs such as “The Fall” and the title number, “No Place Like Home.”
As with the case of many early versions of musicals, some scenes can be adjusted, specifically early on in the story. The tune “Broken” states the obvious about Daisy’s heartbreak after having to leave her domicile. Also, a falling out that Daisy and Chris have when they are just starting to know one another feels calculated. This is in contrast with the invigorating realism of the rest of the production.
No Place Like Home is a too rare example of depicting those that endure chronic homelessness in a sympathetic light. Fortunately, Rowley and Steele do not create a tone of self-pity. Instead, theatergoers will likely leave appreciating positive messages about surrogate families and being optimistic in times of crisis.
A quick heads up. Try to get to the intimate playhouse at least fifteen minutes prior to the performance. A preshow has most of the players singing acoustic covers of popular songs such as “Rumors,” “Ball and Chain” and even “…Baby One More Time.” It is worth your extra effort.