Friday, July 26, 2013

Writing A Book for Cirque Du Soleil's QUIDAM

I've written before about my experiences seeing Cirque Du Soleil and how I am very curious about the shows' musical theatre tendencies without strongly committing to it. I get it-- the show is, at the end of the day, a circus. But as this latest revival of Pippin has proven, a circus can have a story, and a story can take place within a circus.

Last night, a friend and I had the privilege of being invited to see Cirque Du Soleil's latest tour in New York, Quidam. The acrobatics and physical performances were incredible, to be sure, but the story was hard to comprehend. I would say this doesn't matter, but even as people were building pyramids and unraveling from a sheet many feet in the air, there were always characters about, chasing one another in the background or descending from the ceiling as others performed. Clearly, there's enough of a story element there that they wanted to connect the scenes with, but what it tells is a mystery.

The only thing we can determine for sure is that there is a young girl who is ignored by her parents, so she dons a hat given to her by a headless stranger and enters a strange world of acrobats (Is that Quidam? Is Quidam a place? A state of mind? It certainly was sung several times over the stage bows). Beyond that premise, who knows what was happening half the time. Here are some theories to try to explain the book that tied together some of the things we saw:
  • My friend hypothesized that the imaginative world was hell in the first act, heaven in the second. Or I could argue that there was a Dante 9 circles-esque thing going throughout most of it, with the Mom, Dad and daughter calmly emerging on the other side at the end. Still, they seemed pretty chummy with all the cast members at the end so maybe it was more of a Labyrinth-type situation.
  • A group of minions dressed all in white (who also strangely act like seals) decide to separate the parents from the little girl so they can teach them the importance of acknowledging their child. 
  • A white cat-like creature that tumbles in and out of the scenes is a Cheshire Cat archetype meant to lead and simultaneously confuse everyone (most of all, me). 
  • A purple character named John is a creepy host figure. My friend hypothesizes he's the devil. I read somewhere he might be a father figure since he literally steals the dad's shoes and steps into them. 
  • Balloons symbolize innocence? There sure were a lot of them in there, and they were always held by the little girl. At one point someone tries to catch one in a cage? So maybe all these strange characters are trying to preserve her sense of wonder? 
  • At one point during the statue routine, where two acrobats were meticulously balancing on one another, some strange figures descended from the ceiling. Both wore white robes. One looked like it was crying blood. I'd like to say I have a theory on this one. Nope, I got nothing. That just happened. 
  • The last act of the night was the Banquine routine, with everyone dressed up like especially destitute Newsies. Newsies, in Quidam, don't just soak the competition. They throw young girls at them, and then subsequently catch them on their shoulders.
All joking aside, I will say that the physical feats and great production values of a Cirque Du Soleil show never fails to impress. Not to get all heavy, but especially in light of the performer who died in Ka in Las Vegas not too long ago, it's important that we not take for granted the immense talents people bring to these shows and the risks they take to share them. For those who can make it, enjoy Quidam and all the great stunts it has to offer. Just don't try too hard to decode why a girl in antlers might be chasing a guy with twig-woven wings around the stage during the interludes.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


While one of my favorite aspects of modern chamber musicals is the ease with which smaller, more dramatic stories are translating themselves to the stage, there are still shows that celebrate the pure joy and escapism that musicals uniquely are able to do. A shiny example of this, in fact, is Nobody Loves You, a new musical by Gaby Alter and Itamar Moses that just opened at Second Stage in NYC. After all, considering this show is a parody of a fictional reality dating television show by the same moniker, what is more escapist than a musical/reality TV mashup?

Nobody Loves You tells the story of Jeff, a grad student whose girlfriend recently dumped him after an argument about his lack of interests in her interest (i.e. her favorite reality dating television show). Determined to get her back (or at least make sure no one else can have her), Jeff auditions for the show. His sarcastic and caustic tape catches the eyes of producers who immediately pick him, even though his ex-girlfriend is nowhere in sight. Intrigued about the idea of continuing on with the show more as moral commentary than actual contestant, Jeff finds himself among a cast of lovable whackos, a preening host, and a production assistant he might have an actual connection with.

The show is frothy and fun with a few particularly standout numbers and terrific performances all around. Heath Calvert is perfectly shiny as the show's vapid and golden-voiced host, and I am officially in love with Aleque Reid's voice, which should have every songwriter eager to give her their music (if I could do it, I would). A particularly genius structural decision was the character of Evan (played brilliantly by Rory O'Malley), a blogger who comments on the show through social media and eventually plays a larger role in the story when it's revealed that he is Jenny's roommate.

Overall, the story is campy fun-- less biting satire, and more playful delight in the ridiculousness of reality TV. Revel in the drama and absurd personalities, and soak up some clever songs with a bit of an electronic thump. This is a score I can especially see lending itself well to a cast album.

I've been a pretty big fan of Gaby Alter and Itamar Moses for a while, and this collaboration did not disappoint. Nobody Loves You runs at Second Stage until August 11. Grab your tickets here.