A family-friendly magical realism musical involving a 1920s Broadway singer, who, following the collapse of her marriage, takes her son and flees to a Midwest tent vaudeville show, called the Astrolabe Theater Company, only to discover there is much more to this theater than first appears. Its cast exists in a realm of limbo, where lost and broken souls go to help each other find redemption, heal, and go on to fulfill their dreams. As an audience, you become the witnesses to the onstage variety show, as well as the backstage story, where you, along with the cast, are challenged to see beyond preconceived ideas.
A Broadway performing couple (Margery & Oliver) split up. The wife takes their son Lincoln to perform in a Midwest traveling tent show called Astrolabe to figure her life out. Their son Lincoln wants to be like Mom and Dad, but mom doesn’t want him in showbiz and pushes him to be a lawyer. The kid is miserable. Mom is miserable. Lincoln sings his “I want“ song called Theater Kid. The show’s musical comedian Charley hears him sing and tells him of the Astrolabes secret and of his own quandary in the song “I Don’t Know What it is That Isn’t There” The house lights come up next. Alex, the popcorn vendor, comes through the audience selling little greasy brown paper bags of popcorn for five cents with lots of fun banter and promising a diamond pin in one bag. (It’s a dime with a hole drilled in it pierced with a safety pin) We witness the show, 1920 Vaudeville, starting with the Dragoons marching in through the audience playing Sousa marches, which gives way to fast-paced comedy banter and a humorous tribute “God Bless Sousa, He’s so USA.” An Abe Lincoln Impersonator is up next but loses his pant button and recites the Gettysburg address while holding up his trousers. A Musical Dancing Magic act By Madam Ravin, the only black member of the cast, follows, but Lincoln and Alex get trapped on stage in the middle of it. Margery sings next, a beautiful tune sung to a poem by Christina Rossetti, author of “In the Bleak Midwinter,” called “The Hope Carol.” Oliver shows up backstage, saying he has come to take Lincoln away from his mother and back to New York with him, and Lincoln, upset at his parents arguing, runs away. Alex sets off to find and bring him back, vowing to help his new friend. Margery & Oliver sing a song about their failed marriage called “In The Dark.” Act one concludes with the literally named ” The Obligatory Big Time Dance Bit,” inspired by the Nicholas Brothers’ incredible 1930 tap routine to Cab Callaway’s Jumpin Jive. Just at the end, as the curtain goes down, Alex shows up at the dark corner of the stage and refrains his own verse to “In The Dark,” as the place where he hides.
Alex finds Lincoln witnessing the sorrow of impersonator George, learning of his tragic backstory in a song called “Broken.” Margery consults with Eloise and Peter about what to do. They think Lincoln is the key. In the meantime, Lincoln had found a close friend in Alex who tries to hatch a plan to help Lincoln’s Mom admit to her son’s talents and dreams. With Charley’s and the rest of the cast’s help, they plot to slip one of Lincoln’s songs to Margery to sing without her knowing who wrote it. Lincoln would come on stage singing harmony with his mother, who would then realize she’s singing his song along with him. This would break through her defenses and allow her to accept her son’s dreams. For good measure, each act that evening will incorporate the boys, starting with Madam Ravin, who educates Lincoln on what it’s like to be a black Entertainer with her song “Silly Me,” which transforms into the stage version called “Clever Me,” where the three of them end up dancing on air ten feet above the stage. Next, they appear as Tom and Huck with George as Mark Twain in “If Ever The Twain You Shall Meet.” Finally, during a frantic costume change for his mother’s act, Lincoln discovers his friend Alex’s secret, that he is a transgender boy. Lincoln must take that moment to choose between carrying out his plan to win his mother’s approval or risking it all and staying backstage and showing his friend that he accepts him as is. Lincoln vows to stick with Alex. Now elated to have a real friend, Alex believes it’s not too late and pulls Lincoln on stage and dances a soulful ballet. At the same time, Lincoln sings his song “A Joyful Heart” back to his mother, who is floored when she realizes her son’s real passion and talents, which in her unhappiness, she blinded herself to. Oliver confronts them afterwords to take Lincoln, but Margery convinces him to let Lincoln chose. Oliver tries to lure his son back with his dream of being on Broadway. For Lincoln, it means taking sides with Dad, who cheated on and left Mom and him. Feeling understood at last by his mother, Lincoln chooses to back off from his father and his offer of stardom to stay in relative obscurity with his mother and his new friend after realizing his real joy is in those he cares about. Alex tells Margery his secret and finds she is also accepting of who he is and vows to protect Alex and be the family he needs along with Lincoln. Charley realizes after watching the boys that what his life is missing is family, and he leaves the show to go home to settle down.
The show ends with an affirmative song called “These are the days.” and Heloise’s Shakespearian-like epilogue to the audience.
“And so good friends, our tale is done, our muses have mused, and our songs of been sung
The tent of stars we’ll pack and stow, but just one thing before we go
Riches and power are but gifts of blind fate, whereas goodness you must initiate.
So be good, do good, let love prevail. It’s all up to you the course that you sail
but if you live in limbo still, take the love and hope that our blessings fill
our hearts are open, our hands are out, You each have worth, this never doubt.
Now (Music stops dead), go change the world. (Music back in full)”