Hereafter, Porchlight Theatre Ensemble, at Stage Left Theatre. It's both a testament to the talents of composer-lyricist Robert Hartmann and lyricist Scott Keys and a sad commentary on the state of musical theater that this musical should be cause for celebration. In healthier times there might be five shows this witty, diverting, and heartrending running at once, putting commercial tripe like Clue the Musical to shame. But as it stands, Hereafter is the best new musical I've seen here since last season's alternately jokey and affecting Halloween revue Macabaret, also by Hartmann and Keys and also produced by the Porchlight Theatre Ensemble.
Hereafter features an eclectic score liberally sprinkled with well-crafted pop songs quoting sources from Christmas carols to Sweeney Todd. And this refreshingly whimsical musical sheds light on the struggles of people who probably wouldn't be cool enough to inhabit the bohemian haunts of Rent. In a converted Brooklyn church, a struggling kiddie-horror novelist, his dotty scream-queen actress grandmother, a junk-food snarfing psychic hot line operator, and her ten-year-old son are forced to confront their fears and disappointments when they're visited by a dashing gay stained-glass craftsman and his dead lover's blithe spirit.
With a fresh, energetic, well-trained cast under the subtly assured direction of Richard Israel, Porchlight delivers a graceful production. The somewhat meandering narrative does lose focus midway through, but the loss never destroys the playful, intelligent mood or one's sympathy for the eccentric characters.