We’re going back in time for the College-Conservatory of Music’s (CCM) studio musical theater series production of "Yeast Nation."
The year is 3,000,458,000 B.C., at we’re at the bottom of the primordial sea. At the time, the only living organisms were salt-eating yeasts.
This bio-historical satire takes audiences on quite a journey. Famine has struck the yeastiverse, and the tyrannical king, Jan-the-Eldest, has put strict rules on the yeasts to keep things in balance.
When the play begins, Jan-the-Wretched is being put to death for rising above the yeastiverse. His daughter, Jan-the-Sweet (“the sweet one”), tries to spare her father’s life by claiming he is unwell, but her plea has little impact.
To win the affection of the sweet one, the King’s son — Jan-the-Second — decides to journey above and bring back “muck” — a forbidden food in the yeastiverse. The sweet one and the king’s son soon develop a newfound feeling for one another: love.
Meanwhile, the King’s second child, Jan-the-Sly; is plotting with the King’s righthand man, Jan-the-Wise; about how she can overthrow her father and older brother to become queen. Could the “muck” be the solution?
The score, written by “Urinetown” creators Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, boasts a strong pop-rock flare and features several nods to other Broadway hits, whether intentional or not. It almost feels like the lovechild of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Menken with a dash of Stephen Schwartz.
Several numbers seemed reminiscent of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The king is treated somewhat like a god among the yeasts, and people are shouting for the yeasts to be popped. If you’re a theater nerd like me, be on the lookout for a “Little Shop of Horrors” vibe toward the end of the musical.
This cast is jam-packed with unbelievably professional talent, and I often felt myself forgetting that I was watching a show at a university. Bailee Endebrock (Jan-the-Sweet) is the star to watch this time. I couldn’t help but get excited every time she was on stage. Endebrock boasts natural grace and a gripping stage presence, and her Act-I solo “Burnin’ Soul” was a highlight of the show.
Again, for my fellow theater nerds, Endebrock has a striking similarity to Broadway-favorite Laura Osnes. Jan-the-Sweet is the love interest of both Jan-the-Second and Jan-the-Wise, and Endebrock’s chemistry with both actors is incredible.
John Collins (Jan-the-Second) had audiences in the palm of his hand with his charm, comedic timing and vocal ability. He’s everything you want in a leading man. His character is determined to be with the sweet one while also freeing the yeasts from the turmoil they face.
In “I’ll Change the World Around Her,” he abandons his father’s wishes and swims to the top of the sea to access the “muck” to bring it back to Jan-the-Sweet. The song is vocally challenging, but Collins navigates it with ease.
Erich Schleck (Jan-the-Wise) and Delaney Guyer (Jan-the-Sly) pair perfectly as the villains of the musical. Their voices and comedic timing mesh together beautifully.
In the Act-II duet “Don’t be a Traitor to Love,” Jan-the-Sly uses Jan-the-Wise’s attraction to the sweet one as bait to aid her master plan of gaining the throne. Schleck and Guyer’s shared talents made this number one of the biggest jams in the show.
While the plot can sometimes feel like an acid trip, “Yeast Nation” is ultimately a compelling story about change, redemption, love and discovery — traits that everyone can relate to.
Keep an eye out for more shows this year from CCM’s musical theater department.