By now it’s apparent that one misses out on Barrington Stage Company musicals at one’s peril. From the smartest “Cabaret” ever staged in their early years at a Sheffield high school to the transcendent world premiere of "A Crossing" at their current digs in Pittsfield (through Oct. 16) they are simply the best. Along the way there have been the original production of “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and first-class productions of Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein musicals. Whether the director is Barrington boss Julianne Boyd, Joe Calarco (“Ragtime”) or Joshua Bergasse, who directed and co-choreographed “A Crossing,” they are something to see and savor.
Boyd and Barrington have also been at the forefront of making Berkshires theater more diverse with such non-musical productions as the 2016 world premiere of “American Son” and 2018’s excellent “The Chinese Lady,” dealing with a host of Asian American issues.
So “A Crossing,” about a group of migrants struggling to cross the border into Texas, fits right in. The full title is “A Crossing: A Dance Musical” and this is a production created in association with the Calpulli Mexican Dance Company and co-choreographed by the company’s artistic director Alberto Lopez. The list of “authors” extends to composer-orchestrators Zoe Sarnak, George Sáenz and Rick Hip-Flores with a book by Barrington favorite Mark St. Germain.
Sorry for all the names, but “A Crossing” is not only the dictionary definition of a collaborative effort, but the whole doesn’t make much sense without the superb work of all of the above parts, not to mention the ensemble of extremely gifted singer-dancers, who identify as “an entire latiné” cast. Their vocals and dancing are only one example of how the words, movement and music blend into a seamless whole.
The company’s video provides a good example of how:
The story of migrants is hardly unknown. We see and hear of the humanitarian horrors daily. Donald Trump rode the nationalist anti-immigration fervor, along with other issues, to the White House in 2016. His counterparts abroad have done the same. Clearly this is an international issue in need of international solutions.
But one of the great things that theater does is to get past the compassion fatigue that plagues both sides of the intellectual debate. And this piece of theater does that very well. For the most part, they tell the story of the migrants’ journey without resorting to cliché or tugging obsessively at the heartstrings. Thus a ballad that could dissolve into “American Idol” excess takes a turn into melodic Mexican roots; a simple rain dance turns into a downpour that threatens the migrants’ lives; a musical prayer to god that might have been sentimental transforms into anger at how an almighty power could allow for such tragedy and separation.
Unknown to the migrants, they are accompanied by Sol, the Male Storyteller (Andres Quintero) and Luna, the Female Storyteller (Monica Tulia Ramirez). They are part narrators and part Greek chorus and Ramirez, in particular, has pipes of passion.
There is also a powerfully percussive dance by Quetzalcoatl (Caleb Marshall-Villarreal), a deity of Aztec and Mayan cultures among others. But if the storytellers and the god possess any supernatural powers, it is of limited use to the migrants as they make their way along Beowulf Boritt's functional, symbolic set.
The choreography for the ensemble ranges from the subtle to the energetic and is no less transfixing than the solo number for the god. It’s the dancing as much as the words that capture the striving for a better life in the United States while it’s St. Germain’s words and Sarnak’s lyrics that keep us aware that the meager day-to-day existence that probably awaits them in the US might not be much better than the threats to their lives south of the border. There will be other threats to their lives here as well.
St. Germain wisely refrains in this 85-minute intermissionless show from spending too much time on any one person, which only enhances our ability to empathize with the group. But the last bow is deservedly given to Ashley Pérez Flanagan, who owns the role of Giselle, a 17-year-old whose parents have been disappeared and who dreams of revenge before being taken by her abuelo (grandfather) to join the journey.
She is perhaps the most clear-headed of the ensemble and it’s her story and Pérez Flanagan’s performance that most lucidly capture the hopes and fears and anger of the ensemble.
So get out to the Berkshires if you can. (There might even be a leaf or two to peep.) Barrington Stage’s work used to come to Boston, to a theater in Foxboro as well as to the Hasty Pudding, where “Cabaret” had a lengthy award-winning stay. I don’t know that “A Crossing” will be to Broadway’s tastes, but I can see it fitting in very nicely at ArtsEmerson’s Paramount or Cutler Majestic stages.
In her curtain speech, Julianne Boyd noted that the hope was to get “A Crossing” up before the pandemic when the story was so relevant, but that it has become even more relevant now. “A Crossing” doesn’t solve any of the issues, but the call to our common humanity is irresistible.
“A Crossing: A Dance Musical” continues at the Barrington Stage Company through Oct. 16.