Blaine Yorgason’s short novel about a man’s triumph over adversity and the effect of his love for a small town has been adapted into a musical play whose intentions are absolutely pure, but which stumbles slightly in its attempt to convey meaning.
“Charlie’s Monument” (at the Little London Dinner Theatre), with book and lyrics by Susan Evans McCloud and Marvin Payne and music by K. Newell Dayley, focuses more on the love story between Charlie (Davison Cheney) and Nellie (Kathryn Laycock Little).
Charlie, a Forrest Gump-y fellow with a limp and a missing arm, is orphaned and ostracized by a town that doesn’t want to be burdened by him. They give him a job sitting on top of the local mountain, allegedly watching for fires, Indian attacks or whatever, but really just to keep him out of sight.
He starts stacking rocks, monument-style, each rock representing his mood at the moment. Soon he is visited by the lovely Nellie Reeves, whose father naturally disapproves of her love for the deformed man, but whom she marries anyway.
Their courtship is really quite sweet. The fact that there are no other actors around, leaving them entirely alone at the top of that mountain, gives the love story a fairy-tale, other-worldly feel, as if the couple are the only two people on Earth.
Tragedy and sadness await them following their marriage, though, with Charlie left to triumph over it all, just as he has triumphed over adversity his entire life.
Cheney and Little play their parts exceptionally, and both have fine singing voices. Unfortunately, the songs tend to be of the highly forgettable “you’re gonna make it someday” faux-inspirational Neil Diamond variety, and the few minor characters played by the same actors serve little purpose other than narrative function. In most cases, just using a narrator would have been better.
Alas, this stage production glosses over what was originally the point of the story — Charlie’s monument, the huge stack of rocks that represents his love for the town, and the positive effect he had on its residents. We are TOLD, briefly, that he brightened the lives of others, but the only person we ever see him talk to is Nellie. It makes for a fine love story, but the idea of the rocks standing as a monument to his humble servitude for the town doesn’t come across.
I always feel smart when I see a play based on a book I've read.
I admire the tenacity of this theater. They're working hard to be good, having just started up a few months ago. If I were a rich fellow, I would donate money to them (if they need it; I don't know if they do) and support the whole thing, because I love dinner theater, and I support anyone who's trying to produce quality theater of any variety. But I'm not rich, so I guess they're on their own. Good luck, though.