This Tale of Complex Female Pop Musicians Has Great Acting, So Why the Weak Songs and Story?

Alison Luff, Kacee Clanton and Matt Magnusson in the wonderfully acted but trite musical Breaking ThroughEXPAND
Alison Luff, Kacee Clanton and Matt Magnusson in the wonderfully acted but trite musical Breaking Through
Jim Cox Photography

For a musical that’s all about complex female pop stars, Breaking Through doesn’t have many catchy songs or much of a tale.

The new show, currently playing at the Pasadena Playhouse, follows singer-songwriter Charlie Jane (Alison Luff) as she tries to make it as a pop musician. As her star rises, Charlie is molded into a marketable amalgamation of traits, and she worries that her artistic voice will be lost.

If the plot sounds trite, that’s because it is. But its familiarity could be forgiven if it were inventively written and offered songs that stick in your head. Unfortunately, despite some snappy dialogue, Kirsten Guenther’s book, the narrative that ties the songs into a whole, lacks strong structure, and there are only a handful of earworms you might retain from the score (by Cliff Downs and Katie Kahanovitz).

Further frustrating the experience is Peter Fitzgerald’s muddy sound design, which makes the show nearly unintelligible, and John Iacovelli’s unappealing and cheap-looking sets.

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It is nice to see a show that’s so unapologetically focused on interesting women — besides Luff's Charlie, there's her best friend (Teya Patt), boss (Nita Whitaker) and mentor (Kacee Clanton). These four actors deliver both dramatically and vocally. So it’s a shame that their talents aren’t showcased in a better musical. 

Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; through Nov. 22. (626) 356-7529, pasadenaplayhouse.org.


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