Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Simplest Things: PigPen Theatre Co.'s THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON

We often walk a fine line on this blog between a musical and a play with music. Hell, throw in opera, musical spoofs, song cycles, etc. and the genre is just too hard to fit in a box. Last night, I had the privilege of seeing The Old Man and The Old Moon, the latest offering from PigPen Theatre Company, a collection of seven young actor/musicians/writers/composers (gahh, again with the blending of the categories) who developed their unique aesthetic and development process while in school together at Carnegie Mellon. They've gained some traction around the city having won top prize at The Fringe twice now, but The Old Man and The Old Moon represents their first full-length production now playing at The Gym at Judson.

I can't go into great detail, since my friend, Erin Salvi, and I will be discussing the show in the next episode of our podcast (which you should all check out on Crazytown-- the new episode will be up next Wednesday). However, I will say this: this show is a magical display of storytelling-- an exemplary work of perhaps the oldest oral traditions while guided by an expert hand that makes them feel new and surprising. Most importantly, I think, in the context of this blog, the musical elements that PigPen adds to their shows is really essential and beautiful. With a folksy score that fits the epic action and fable-like adventure like a glove, this is an example of how play-like a musical can be and musical a play can be. For your viewing pleasure, I'm posting some videos of some songs from the company below. Please go check out their website, see The Old Man and The Old Moon (then we can discuss!), and look out for our podcast.

(The company's first animated short, Bremen, which is also an introduction
to the epic world of The Old Man and The Old Moon.)

(Song "As Lonely As Me" from their debut album, "Bremen")

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Basking in the glow of The Comet of 1812

I would say I see a fair amount of theatre-- and much of it is great. Beautiful. Wonderful. Masterful.

But once in a while, a theatre piece comes along that is truly special. Something that is less of a show and more of an event. Something a little wilder, a little newer that pushes the boundaries of theatre making. This kind of show is the one that pull you out of your beliefs of what theatre is. It challenges you. It fights you. And in the end, you learn something and appreciate something that you didn't even know existed before. This is a rare event. Almost as rare as a comet, streaking across the sky.

And thus are my feelings about Natasha, Pierre & The Comet of 1812, a dynamite electro-pop opera finishing its extended run this week at Ars Nova. I would tell you that you should absolutely run out and buy a ticket before it closes, but the show has been sold out for a while, so giving such advice would probably just make you feel like I do every time I see an ad for Book of Mormon on television. Still, for those who haven't had the chance to see it (and even for those who have), I thought I would just give a few thoughts about the piece, since I think this is an experience that is hard to replicate but everyone deserves a chance to experience.

Natasha, Pierre & The Comet of 1812 is based on none other than Tolstoy's War and Peace. But lest you think this is some stilted classic left to collect dust on a shelf, this operatic version takes on a life of its own, quickly summarizing multiple characters and modernizing their plights so that you can find some of these countesses and scoundrels making the rounds at the club. The actors move on the bars that snake around the room-- there's no formal stage, rather, the audience is seated at tables which are outfitted with bottles of vodka for everyone to pour at their leisure, along with some vegetarian dumplings (not bad, I must say). You, the audience member, are very much in the fray as old Pierre tries to find himself and young Natasha finds herself... in the arms of a man other than her fiance.

As to be expected, loves are lost and found, characters despair, and hopes and dreams are born as quickly as they are squashed. And while sometimes the dramatic arcs reach a point of melodrama, what separates this rousing musical from many before it can be attributed to Dave Malloy's music, an exciting  blend of pop from the folksy to the techno with subtle Russian influences and the occasional remix over an electric beat. The music shows depth and humor, and the lyrics manage to capture the deep dramatic feelings of the characters while still poking fun at them on occasion.

Photo by Ben Arons

Director Rachel Chavkin creates an atmosphere of warmth and inclusion-- normally I balk at the prospect of audience participation, but I felt strangely at ease even so up close and personal with the action around me. All of the cast delivers excellent performances, and I was riveted throughout. The energy never falters and every moment is performed with such glee and commitment.

This show is truly something special, a reminder of the possibilities of theatre and a justification for why some things just need to be experienced on stage. It was a gorgeous representation of not only great musical theatre, but also great atmosphere and performance-- a chance to come in from the cold and to share in a good story.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Will Reynolds' POEMS & MOON SONGS

I've had the pleasure of hearing Will Reynolds' music a few times now, with songs seeming to pop up at every up-and-coming musical theatre concert in town as of late. Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a full evening of his songs, which came in the form of Poems & Moon Songs, a "song constellation" presented by Libra Theater Company at The Underground Lounge. With incredible singers Sara Jean Ford, Marissa, McGowan, Jeremy Morse, and Zachary Prince, the evening of original songs about seasons and time really soared along with some gorgeous tunes written to accompany poems by famous writers like Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

(Rehearsal of "Heart, We Will Forget Him," sung by Sara Jean Ford and Marissa McGowan)

Many of the songs arranged for the poems (which served as lyrics) were quite stunning pieces. I especially enjoyed the Emily Dickinson pieces which featured very lovely harmonies for two of her most famous pieces, "Heart, We Will Forget Him" and "Hope." I loved the idea of setting famous poems to music-- it's fascinating the way punctuation and structural choices are reflected in the music. I can only imagine how awesome it would be to hear an e.e. cummings or John Donne poem put in a song someday.

The original songs were just as memorable and elegant, with many songs feeling like a part of a starry-eyed American songbook collection. There were many wistful tunes that allowed for some beautiful performances, and lord knows I'm a sucker for some well-placed string parts and the cello and violin didn't disappoint.

Standouts included the irreverent "Spring," sung below at a Dreamlight Theatre Company concert:

And "Si Vous Me Souivez" sung below by Will Reynolds himself (and which was sung winkingly by Jeremy Morse in the Libra production):

The Libra Theater Company has 1 more performance of this lovely piece tonight at 7:30 pm. All proceeds from ticket sales go to Hurricane Sandy relief, so you can see a great show and support a great cause. Get your tickets here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A New York State of Mind

It's been an unusual week and a half, to say the least. Many parts of New York were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and even areas that weren't hit very hard by the storm itself have still been at a standstill with power only coming to lower Manhattan over the weekend. There's still a lot to be done to get the city and its surrounding areas back to normal, but I feel like there's no better time to repost some videos from the recent concert Once Upon A Time In New York City, where up-and-coming composers shared original songs about this great city and the great people who make it what it is:

Gaby Alter singing his song "My First Year in New York":

Kate Rockwell singing Danny Abosch's "Real New Yorkers":

Katrina Rose Dideriksen, Molly Hager, Alyse Alan Louis and Lauren Marcus singing Michael R. Jackson's "New York Is the Worst":

Gaten Matarazzo and Grace Capeless singing Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich's "Why I Like New York":

Joe Iconis with Jason Williams, Eric William Morris and Molly Hager singing his song "52":

Watch more videos from the evening here.