The most impressive ballad in "Loch Ness: A New Musical" surfaces about half an hour into the show. 

And it's sung by a 12-year-old girl. Titled "Hold On," the ballad takes place as Haley Westerbrook (Kaylin Hedges) sets sail alone on the Scottish lake in search of her mother, who disappeared in a plane crash there. Hedges hits one impassioned note after another, and sustains them beyond a singer of her age would appear capable. But she captures the hurt and confusion that would befall any young girl who lost her mother so suddenly, so mysteriously. Hedges does this throughout the show, too. Whether she's vying for the attention of her work-obsessed father, Thomas (Jeremy Kushnier), or disobeying the crew of the ship he commands, the youngster is at once vulnerable and unstoppable. She's the kind of child you could hug and scold in the same breath.

But the next part of the show is even more impressive than Hedges' performance. Because that's when she meets the legendary monster silhouetted by the show's title.

Mist bathes the wooden frame of Haley's dinghy. Below her, several performers in billowy tunics crouch and slither. Their movements evoke those of the lake: somersaults when Haley paddles, upright kicks when the water splashes. Then they contort into a new formation, some climbing the others. When one of them raises a reptilian puppet head in the air, we know: They're Nessie.

"Loch Ness" doesn't refer to its monster as such, but the show personifies its mythic subject in other ways. The main one is giving it a human avatar, played by Lindsay Nicole Chambers, whose grouchy attitude toward Haley is both consummately Scottish and sympathetic given the monster's many years of being hunted. As she and Haley get to know one another, though, they become the focus of a heartwarming "girl and her monster" story. And telling that story, and nothing else, would make "Loch Ness" one of the better shows of this season at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse.

But it's by far the best because Marshall Pailet and A.D. Penedo's new musical tells that story with more than its powerhouse delivery of memorable songs, more than its hypnotizing kinetic language that submerges the audience in the setting's murky waters. The pair's script also spills over with laugh-out-loud moments of humor with modern sensibility, and their story of a father and daughter searching for monsters and meaning hooks you with its sharp plotting. Meanwhile, the rousing chord structures and tempestuous rhythms of Pailet's music transports the audience to Scotland, and Penedo's lyrics always steer the story and characters forward. At more than 2.5 hours, the show could use a few snips, but for only its third production, it's phenomenally evolved.

Earthy lighting, clever use of lanterns and a craggy tableau backdrop with an iris peering into Loch Ness all highlight another stunning visual design effort from The Rev Theatre Company. That imagery contributes to the mystery and wonder of the musical as much as its possessed acrobatics and imaginative portrayal of the monster. But Pailet and Penedo wisely use that mystery and wonder to send a message that's all too human. The monster, in the end, is a metaphor for our need to know the unknowable, to make sense of the senseless, particularly in times of grief.

But sometimes, moving ahead — or, as Thomas Westerbrook sings, "Sailing Forward" — means letting go of that need. It means saying, "I don't know." And it means being OK with that. All the featured performers in "Loch Ness" play their own terrific part in sending that message, from Cathryn Wake's monster-hunting heiress Leanna Callaghan to Joseph Medeiros' hilariously enigmatic Oiler. The show's message is expressed most elegantly, though, when Thomas, finally attuned to his daughter, sings to her in Gaelic. We don't know what he's saying. And we don't need to.

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Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.


I'm the features editor for The Citizen and auburnpub.com, and have been here since 2006. I also cover local arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.