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"Quirky & Madly Charming" Musical About Sisterhood & Mortality is Next Up at NKU

“Nelly was the first of the Fail Girls to die, followed soon after by her sisters, Jenny June and Gerty Fail, in that order. Causes of death were Blunt Object, Disappearance and Consumption, also in that order.”
 
The above is the opening line in Northern Kentucky University’s regional premiere of quirky and madly charming musical fable Failure: A Love Story which has been earning raves as it premieres around the U.S. 
 
Failure plays Nov. 20 - Dec. 7 at NKU, with a Thanksgiving week break.
 
If you think you know the ending at the beginning – not exactly. As in all things, Failure is in the journey. In the spirit of ‘magical realism,” director Corrie Danieley describes Failure as, “Part fantastical, part real, part memory, part present...“ 
 
It’s Chicago, 1928 – the Jazz Age. Prohibition. The Roaring Twenties. The year three sisters die under bizarro circumstances. There are deaths, but the show, says Danieley, is about life. About living it.
 
Before each sister meets her untimely end (a habit for most of the Fail family), she finds love and happiness. In fact they all fall in love with the same suitor – Mortimer Mortimer, described in the play as "so successful he's named after himself." Danieley believes Mortimer’s ever-transferring affections “are really genuine.” It’s that kind of show.
 
It may be that playwright Philip Dawkins doesn’t believe there’s such a thing as ‘happily ever after’ – but the play’s thesis might just rest in one line of dialogue: “Just because something ends, that don’t mean it wasn’t a great success.”
 
Danieley joined the NKU theater faculty last year, just about the time a friend sent her the script. She loved it. The story is simple, says Danieley, but she also calls it “epic, and the themes are timeless – love, heartbreak, death, and the passage of time.”
 
Time is a big thing in Failure. The sisters live above their father’s clock shop, near the Chicago River. Some of the clocks talk. (So do the occasional animal.) “Time passes quickly and sometimes slowly, there is a memory scene that takes us back in time.”
 
The Fail sisters are played by Gretchen Priddy (Nelly), Victoria Hawley (Gerty) and Melissa Cathcart (Jenny June). They lead a cast of 20.
 
In casting the actresses, Danieley said, “Victoria is very smart – she understands that Gerty is linear, things have to happen in a certain way. Jenny June is the athlete, she’s bold and strong and I saw some of that in Melissa. Nelly sees the word as a romantic, an idealist and there was something in Gretchen that drew me to her (in the role).”
 
Danieley calls the music, to original songs “to be the heartbeat of the play.” A small, on-stage band provides the music: piano, string, percussion, and one velvety alto vocalist. “There are standards with “poignant lyrics by Berlin and Porter, with accompaniment that has a home-
grown feel. (Musical Director) Jacob Priddy also wrote an original tune that is just fantastic.”
 
Risk is one of the lessons of “Failure” – the Fail girls have triumphs and defeats, and there are parallels to studying theatre, Danieley suggests. “You risk, you fail, you try again. You might fall on your face but you have to do it.”
 
Failure: A Love Story, Nov. 20-23 and Dec. 3-7. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Corbett Theatre, Fine Arts Center, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights. $14 adults, $11 seniors, $8 students. 859-572-5464 or click here.
 
Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
 
Photo: (L to R) Gretchen Priddy, Victoria Hawley, and Melissa Cathcart as the Fail Sisters, Nelly, Gerty, and Jenny June (by Philip Krinsky/Tyler Gabbard)