Show Review: PIFA 2013 Presentation- Spare a Dime

On Friday night, I had the pleasure of seeing Spare a Dime, a project put on by the non- profit COSA COSA art at large, Inc. and one of the many works being featured in the 2013 Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. To be quite honest, I didn’t know what to expect. The website described it as a “multimedia song cycle about the Works Progress Administration.” Does this mean it would have words or would it all be music? Even operas have a dialogue of sorts, albeit sung, so wrapping my head around this new concept produced some initial apprehension, which of course dissipated once the show began.

Written, composed, and directed by Kimberley Niemela, Spare a Dime bridges the economic woes of the Great Depression to our country’s current “Great Recession.” Divided into two parts, the show examines the lives of key characters before the FDR’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) and how their lives change for the better after its creation. We look inside the world of a corner store merchant, a builder, a veteran, an immigrant, a farmer, and a mother, and see that their struggles are one way or another, much like our own.  Spare a Dime successfully establishes a connection between the show’s central characters, the audience, the past, and the present.

This end was achieved through a number of elements working in unison. For one, the songwriting was excellent. Often times, historical musical works can be a bit cheesy but the majority of songs in Spare a Dime were more based in heart than history. I could take any number of them out of context and enjoy them- from the soulful, Aretha Franklin- like “Pocket Full of Blues” to the gorgeously haunting “Dimestore Lullaby.” Each tune had a memorable melody, thoughtful lyrics, and real emotional integrity.
Picking up where the songs left off and helping outline important historical points further, multimedia presentations were utilized. Seeing actual footage from the Great Depression was incredibly moving, and what’s more, the modern day interpretations of these photos were also a powerful way of connecting present society to the past.

On another music- related “note,” the singers in Spare a Dime were phenomenal. Aside from being pitch perfect in every way, these performers really connected with their characters. I had goose bumps during every single song and being a singer myself, who can be super critical, this does not happen often. In addition, the flow of the show on the production side was super seamless, thanks to Production Coordinator Rodney Whittenberg and Musical Coordinator Jay Fluellen. With so many elements and so many musical numbers, these pros made it look easy.

While Spare A Dime had its closing night on April 20th, you can still get a taste of the show on its website: www.spareadime.org. There is also a cast recording available at: http://cosacosa.org/SpareADime.html.

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