Music Theatre of Connecticut
Music Theatre of Connecticut is currently presenting the one-man play, “RFK,” by Jack Holmes, about the life and political career of Bobby Kennedy. The generally entertaining show features an excellent performance by Chris Manuel, who is able to fully take on the persona and spirit of the title character. Kevin Connors’ direction is nicely paced and keeps the production interesting, even if the play itself, at times, sags. Still, with Manuel in charge, the stage is very much alive with energy and this actor presents quite a remarkable take on Bobby Kennedy, revealing all the many facets of the man’s life, both as a politician and as a family man. Music Theatre of Connecticut should be saluted for presenting live theater during this pandemic and “RFK” is a worthwhile show for both audience members who are watching in the theater, as well as those who watch the play live-streamed at home.
Live theater needs to be supported now more than ever and “RFK” presents an array of assets. In examining the life of Bobby Kennedy, the play shows Kennedy at many stages in his life, from his time serving as Attorney General to John F. Kennedy, to his own efforts in running for President in 1968. But there is much more: the audience sees Bobby Kennedy’s personal life, particularly his relationship with his wife and their many children. Chris Manuel handles everything commandingly and he is even quite good at embodying other people in the play, such as Jackie Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, simply by changing his voice and his use of different mannerisms.
“RFK” also benefits from having a fine design team. The relatively simple set design (expertly provided by Jessie Lizotte) mostly contains desks and chairs, on either side of the stage, as well as many important historical pictures, which are displayed on the back wall of the set. Diane Vanderkroef’s costume design feels completely right and RJ Romeo is remarkable lighting the show, creating key areas onstage which Manuel moves back and forth from, such as Bobby Kennedy’s office, to a microphone where he makes speeches, to his chair at home. These designers work in perfect accordance with director Kevin Connors and the show flows smoothly from beginning to end.
Of course, without a strong actor at the helm, “RFK” would not be particularly effective, and Music Theater of Connecticut is very fortunate to have Chris Manuel as Bobby Kennedy. I have seen this actor to fine effect in previous productions at this theater, in shows such as “Ragtime” and “Jekyll and Hyde.” Still, it must be stated that Manuel’s previous work couldn’t begin to hint at how wonderful he is taking on a show all his own. Indeed, Manuel’s performance keeps the audience riveted. This actor’s presence onstage is powerful, and he can make various stories about Bobby Kennedy, from his jumping in a lake for a swim, to his winning the California primary as the Democratic presidential candidate just as significant and fascinating. Manuel has Kennedy’s manner and voice completely right, but it is truly an inner spark which makes this actor so good and he seems to carry this show effortlessly.
It is probably unfortunate that I just saw a different play about Bobby Kennedy recently, which was much more focused and compelling than “RFK” manages to be. Still, this current play at Music Theatre of Connecticut is a worthy one, especially with everything going on in the world today, from politics to race riots to abuses of power. All of these topics (and more) are addressed in “RFK” and this show would be a must-see just to experience Chris Manuel’s great performance and his bringing to life the essence of Bobby Kennedy. Simply for its subject matter, “RFK” at Music Theatre of Connecticut is a timely and important show that ultimately deserves to be seen and this theater company should be applauded for presenting live theater during these very uncertain times.
“RFK” runs through November 8, 2020 at Music Theatre of Connecticut at 509 Wesport Avenue, Norwalk, CT. For tickets, please visit www.musictheatreofct.com or call the box office 203-454-3883. Under very strict guidelines, Music Theatre of Connecticut, in addition to selling tickets to come to see the show at the theatre, one can also buy tickets to watch the show live-streamed at home. As someone who did see “RFK” through a live-stream, I can attest that it really is just as satisfying as seeing the show in the actual theatre.
Photo: Chris Manuel
Photo by Alex Mongillo