Review by KYLE THOMPSONJune 21, 2019 certified reviewer
What I liked
I really enjoyed the music, the song lyrics, and the character dynamics. The music moved the story along, captured character emotions, and made the action scenes feel exciting. The lyrics were thematic and meaningful to each scene and context. I felt like the characters were friends on stage, friends with issues and challenges, but realistic friends like those we all have. Whether or not you play tabletop games, these elements came together to create a human experience of challenges emerging and challenges overcome.
What I didn't like
To improve, I think there are two main things: the technical features of the performance and the tone (at times).
Without microphones, and with lopsided sound distribution, I sometimes couldn’t hear the actors in their lines or singing.
As for tone, there were times when I think the play wasn’t sure of what it wanted to say. It is no small feat to mix hilarity with drama with action with power in the span of five minutes; in large part “Tabletop” impressively succeeds. However, there were other times when the comedic lines set up a scene for being humorous when in reality it seemed that honor and sadness were more appropriate. I got the sense, that is, that the audience didn’t know what to feel at just a few specific moments. Are we always to take seriously the challenges in the fantasy realm? No, it seems like we want to laugh when someone is being comedic. But then how can and should we feel when they seem to happen at once, the drama and comedy that is.
In total, though, these issues are small. The musical succeeds in large part on blending action with comedy with sorrow with triumph.
My overall impression
I absolutely loved the show AND I thought it was a brilliantly constructed musical. “Tabletop" succeeds not only in being a spirited, fun, funny, touching, nuanced exploration of gaming culture, but also in being a human story that anyone can relate to. The show is “about” tabletop games, which I really enjoy playing, so one might suspect I’d enjoy the musical if it was sufficiently nerdy. But in reality, the show is about relationships, insecurities, and emotions we all grapple with. It’s just that these characters do this grappling both inside and outside their gaming world, which ends up both masking problems and allowing for the resolution of others. And that’s the real genius of “Tabletop,” the characters learn and grow in two realities, the (probably) cluttered gameshop and the fantasy realm of Vaelrun. And they do so without requiring that you know anything at all about tabletop games—the relevant terminology and game mechanics are incorporated in contexts that require no explanation. The music and lyrics propel the story forward in two worlds, giving us highs and lows in each. For non-gamers, it might seem absurd that people dedicate so much time to the woes of a world that looks like a collective hallucination, but “Tabletop” works with this preconception and helps doubters see the value of caring about things “pretend.” If characters can make improvements to their real selves based on fantastical experiences, then “pretend” doesn’t capture the role-playing experience at all.