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Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010

‘Main-Travelled Roads’ an Avenue for Romance

Theater Review

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Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of Main-Travelled Roads—a musical based on Wisconsin-born novelist Hamlin Garland’s collection of short stories about life in the rural Midwest in the late-19th century—was well-received by its opening night audience on Friday.

Written by Dave Hudson, the romantic musical weaves three central love stories set in Wisconsin farm country in the 1880s: that of Aggie and Will, innocent young lovers who, due to a misunderstanding, go their separate ways; Ed, the creamery man, and Nina, a Dutch farmer’s daughter, who develop a relationship while he teaches her how to snag a Yankee boy and she gives him advice about women; and Delia, an “old maid” in her mid-20s who is settling into a happy marriage with Otis after returning from their honeymoon.

Working before a simple yet expansive backdrop that evokes one of painter Grant Wood’s clean, colorful landscapes, four well-rehearsed actors—Clare Arena Haden, Scott Haden, Jennifer L. Shine and Chase Stoeger—play all of the characters with enthusiasm. As both an aggressive farmer and a flirtatious deliveryman, Scott Haden stands out among the talented cast with his rich voice and magnetic charm. Another noteworthy performance was more unexpected: Rich Higdon, who accompanies pianist Alissa Rhode on stand-up bass, spoons and washboard, brought great comedic energy as Nina’s grouchy mother.

The production’s primary weakness is found in the delivery of dialogue that tries to portray a sense of innocence, along with a few simple, uninspired choreography routines that come across as a bit hokey. The strength of Main-Travelled Roads is the way it thoughtfully examines how, despite the progress we’ve made since the late-1800s, our feelings of love and affection remain much the same.

Main-Travelled Roads continues through Oct. 31 in the Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre.