Last year it fizzled. This year Synthaxis Theatre Company has put a little fire in "Stars in Her Eyes," a revision of its musical for young people, previously called "Tale of the Comet."
Still weighty with exposition, the production, written by Alice Josephs, uses shifting narration to describe the nature of comets and tell the story of 19th-Century American phenomenon Maria Mitchell--astronomer, lauded scholar, mathematician and philosopher.
In her portrayal of Mitchell, however, sweet-faced Renee Wilson rises above the accelerated history lesson, bringing to life a young woman who didn't despise the acceptable womanly pursuits of her day, but sought a world far beyond the ken of most people, male or female.
Wilson's expressive voice and luminous dark eyes convey a convincing sense of awe at the secrets of the universe: "What makes the wind blow?" "What makes the stars dance through the night?"
She sings of her wonder to Tim Richardson, playing Mitchell's father, a sea captain who believed his daughter had the right to learn and to teach, despite disapproval from the religious elders in their Massachusetts community.
Directed by Estelle Busch, this revised production has better continuity and character definition. Despite a stronger emphasis on Maria Mitchell's story, however, there remains a sense of two shows struggling to mesh into one.
The show opens with a reporter (Jayetta Benefield) interviewing Halley's comet and Mitchell's comet. To prove to the rather arrogant Comet Halley (Gene Jones) that she is just as special as he is, Comet Mitchell (Robin McKee) in a series of flashbacks shows him how she came to be discovered.
Robert Garrett's lovely, imaginatively revised score (based on the original by Angela Carole Brown) and the strong voices of the cast--particularly Wilson and Richardson, who absolutely shine--give life to what would otherwise be a jumble of facts.
When Mitchell's story ends, there is a jaunty musical number about the sighting of Halley's comet in 1986, but the shift in mood lessens the impact of what has gone before. One wishes for more Maria Mitchell and fewer feuding comets.
Performances continue at 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd. at 1 and 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through April 25; (213) 877-4726.