There are a variety of reasons I wanted to see the concert version of “Oak Island,” a musical presented at the 2021 IndyFringe Festival by American Lives Theatre, on Aug. 26 at IndyFringe Basile Theatre. Since Magic Thread Cabaret, of which I am artistic director, presented “Cabaret Latino” at this year’s festival, we wish to support our colleagues. Secondly, we’ve been in this spot ourselves. My producing partner Dustin Klein and I created “Calder, The Musical” that previewed at the 2016 IndyFringe Festival, The following year, we presented a full-length version. Similarly, ATL is planning another run later this season, calling it “Oak Island: A New Chamber Musical.”
“Oak Island, in Concert” was created by Brandi Underwood, who wrote the book, and Joe Barsanti, who wrote the music and lyrics. Their piece is based on “The Curse of Oak Island,” a multi-season reality TV series on the History network that focuses on a team of treasure hunters and their search for legendary treasure on the infamous Oak Island off the coast of Nova Scotia. The TV show, which premiered in 2014, features what is known at the “Oak Island Mystery,” showing efforts to search for historical artifacts and treasure. The series follows brothers Marty and Rick, who search for the speculated treasure and artifacts.
This ATL concert presentation of Underwood & Barsanti’s show featured Jeanne Bowling as Grace, Zachary Hoover as Drake, and Joseph Massingale as Will. The night I saw the show, Barsanti played Frank, a role usually played by John Hayes, who was not available that evening.
Dressed primarily in black, the talented company members, who were seated behind music stands when not singing, all turned in strong vocal and acting performances. With Barsanti providing narration, the vocalist-actors sang songs from the “Oak Island” score that included “Miles Between Us,” a lovely ballad I found touching and “The Island is Calling,” which is reminiscent of a similarly spirited and lively song from “Come From Away,”
As far as the show’s book, excerpts of which were included in the concert, I was not familiar with the series the musical is based on but am intrigued by its premise. Since then I went online to research it and now look forward to experiencing the Oak Island collaborator’s treatment of the series. Regarding the show’s music and lyrics, I found both well-constructed, engaging and highly appealing. Though infused with originality, I felt the music was derivative and sounded like that of many contemporary composers such as Jason Robert Brown and the team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Not a bad comparison though, right? Still, having myself written lyrics and a book for an original musical myself, I have deep respect and great admiration for Underwood and Barsanti’s effort. Kudos to the intrepid team for what I know to be a monumental effort and one to be admired for the fortitude and dedication required for such an ambitious undertaking. In this case, a project with considerable potential, that deserves support and encouragement.
Leaving me with a desire to see the full production, I judge the preview of “Oak Island” a resounding success and highly recommend you see the show Friday, September 3, at 6:00 p.m. or the final performance on Sunday, September 5, at 6:00 p.m.
To purchase tickets for “Oak Island, in Concert,” go to indyfringe.org. To see upcoming shows by American Lives Theatre, go to americanlivestheatre.org.