Aurora streams musical ‘Barbara’s Blue Kitchen'

Chloe Kay headlines the Southern-flavored musical "Barbara's Blue Kitchen," the inaugural show in Aurora's Our Stage Onscreen series of pre-recorded streaming theater productions. Courtesy of Casey Gardner

Credit: Casey Gardner

Credit: Casey Gardner

Aurora Theatre definitely has the right idea, and frankly, it’s about time that at least one of metro Atlanta’s companies thought of it or acted on it. Although it has been better than seeing nothing at all from other troupes around town, after months of streaming new script readings on Zoom or old jukebox revues on YouTube — pared-down substitutes for live, creative, pre-pandemic theatrical experiences — enough eventually starts to feel like enough.

At any rate, let’s hear it for the powers that be at Lawrenceville’s Aurora, which is introducing its Our Stage Onscreen digital series of “virtual productions,” filmed performances of scripted plays, mounted on a real stage, replete with sets and costumes and lights, employing directors of photography and editors, and then streamed (via Vimeo on Demand), somewhat in the style of an episode of PBS’ “Great Performances” series.

The inaugural effort, “Barbara’s Blue Kitchen,” looks terrific from a technical standpoint. Directed by Aurora associate artistic director Justin Anderson, the musical (book, music and lyrics by Lori Fischer) takes place in a rural Tennessee diner, handsomely rendered by scenic designer Jon Sandmaier, and it’s impressively photographed and edited by Daniel Pope and Ashley Hogan.

The show sounds good, too. It’s practically a one-woman vehicle for Chloe Kay as the diner’s sassy owner, Barbara Jean (in addition to portraying several secondary roles as various customers and relatives). A dynamic vocalist, Kay’s song highlights include the powerful and poignant ballads “Love Coming Through,” “How Many Pieces of My Heart?” and “Can You Hear Me?”

"Barbara's Blue Kitchen," streaming from Aurora Theatre through Oct. 4, features Skyler Brown (left) and Chloe Kay. Courtesy of Casey Gardner

Credit: Casey Gardner

Credit: Casey Gardner

Musical director Ann-Carol Pence’s band features Skyler Brown on guitar, Maurice Figgins on acoustic bass and Hayden Rowe on violin. Brown also plays second fiddle, as it were, with a couple of bit parts (as the diner’s cook and as a radio DJ). Neither he nor Kay is a member of Actor’s Equity, but both of them are Aurora apprentice-company alums.

Kay is fine delineating her many roles, which also include a mousy new waitress, a lonely old widow and a sensible nurse, as well as Barbara’s volatile sister, her precocious little nephew, and even the amorous Italian hairdresser who is her boyfriend. Fischer specifically intended the script to be performed by one actress (she herself did it off-Broadway), not unlike those “Greater Tuna” comedies in which two actors play all the bumpkin stereotypes of a Texas town.

For Aurora’s purposes, the on-camera format makes the character transitions fairly seamless, while also eliminating the on-stage shtick of a lot of quick entrances and exits and costume changes. But it also prompts more than a few awkward moments, where Anderson alternates between close-ups of two people having a conversation and then cuts to a wider angle of one or the other simply talking into thin air. (One scene contains a nifty visual effect, where we actually seem to glimpse two of Kay’s characters interacting in the same shot.)

Running just 80 minutes, “Barbara’s Blue Kitchen” is harmless enough, if not very intellectually stimulating. Dealing in such hokey Southern idiosyncrasies isn’t for all tastes. For example, one invisible customer orders a pulled pork platter and then wants to “hold the pulled pork.”. Surely, there must be countless one-set, two-actor shows that are much better formulated on the whole.

Even so, there’s no mistaking the pleasure of streaming a performance that’s the closest thing we’ve seen in months to an in-person theater production — with or without the live audience.

THEATER REVIEW

“Barbara’s Blue Kitchen”

Available for streaming through Oct. 4. $30 per view. 678-226-6222, auroratheatre.com.

Bottom line: A keen idea that’s slickly produced, if somewhat impaired by its middling material.

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