Thursday, June 28, 2012

Earthbound an electronica musical – Book by Adam Hahn, Music by Jonathan Price, Lyrics by Chana Wise

By Joe Straw

When the Shoemaker-Levy comet collided with Jupiter a few years ago, a group of JPL scientists rejoiced at the spectacle.  And as I watched the YouTube footage I wondered why those same scientist weren’t concern about our planets’ welfare.

At present there is a concerted effort by former NASA astronauts to send a space telescope to spot and track small to mid-sized asteroids capable of destroying a city or worse.  This project, currently on paper, is from the B612 Foundation in California.

And as recently as this month, an asteroid as large as a football field, missed earth by 75,000 miles and no one saw it coming.  It was discovered three days later after it had passed earth.  - Editor

In space, no one is ever late.

Sometimes I wonder why a show starts fifteen or more minutes late.  The times are decided, the patrons show up well before show time, and every coordinated effort is made to see the show when the show is meant to be seen, 8:00 pm sharp, or thereabouts, as close as we can get it, without delay.

But that doesn’t happen for some reason, so without apologies and almost twenty minutes late, the lights are turned down and the show just decides to start.

What if the patrons decided the show times? - Chaos.  

Skypilot Theatre presents the world premiere engagement of a new musical, Earthbound an electronica musical, book by Adam Hahn, music by Jonathan Price and Lyrics by Chana Wise.

The T.U. Studios is a small intimate space of 99 seats or less. There was a capacity crowd of North Hollywood theatre patrons this night. Not many people came in after the 8:00 pm deadline so one is not really sure why the show started so late. There may have been technical difficulties of video and sound that have to be adjusted but things seemed to be in perfect order during the course of the show.

For this fascinating production, one is not sure why the actors/singers are miked when they are standing three or four feet in front of the audience.  Their voices are fine and would resonate beautifully against the walls of this small theatre without the use of electronic stimulation.

This is a different kind of musical, an electronical musical, and fitting for a group of people who are stranded on a space station trying to find a way to get off. But there are problems, lots of problems, on how they go about getting off this space island and back to earth.

The characters all want to return home to earth. The conflict is how.

In space, no one can hear you sing.

The fantastic opening number, “Until We Get to Earth,” is sung by the ensemble, which includes Dade (JR Esposito), his wife Viscaya (Chera Holland), Hialeah (Lindsey Mixon), Coral (Allison Perkins), Palmer Jason Kobielus, Brickell (Samantha Macher), and Mint (Mackenzie English).

Something has happened on earth and it had happened over sixty years ago, possibly asteroids or wars. The catastrophic event(s) has killed off the entire population on earth over a sixty-year period, death brought upon from horrific cancers caused by solar radiation.  For years the space travelers have been watching the noctilucent clouds on the video monitors. And now there are seven people left on this spacecraft to do what they are supposed to do possibly to re-populate the craft.

Only it doesn’t work because:

In space, no one gets pregnant.

Well, this is not entirely true as we find out later in the musical.  Hialeah is pregnant (okay it’s possible) but her partner has died and his body has just been ejected to earth.  Hialeah wants to see “the streak” which is the light show when a dead body enters the earth’s atmosphere and comes back to life. At least, this is the myth the childlike remainders are told will happen. Because:

In space, there are no teachers and your cognitive thinking turns to mush.

It is so with Viscaya whose thought processes have deteriorated considerably.  She interrupts the burial ceremony and appears confused and delirious at times.  She calls Dade, her husband, a handsome man and other times thinks her marriage was a mistake.

Palmer, a younger but not so intelligent man, is wearing the coat that means something and sings a eulogy to the dearly departed Fisher.  He has forgotten the words but manages to find them during the course of the ceremony much to the dismay of Hialeah who wanted a perfect ceremony.  

Later Hialeah and Coral are waiting for the streak of Fisher’s re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. And as they wait, Coral lets Hialeah in on a secret that she wants to have a child herself and she asks Hialeah what is it like to be in love. Hialeah, the sometimes optimist, tells her that it is wonderful in every respect.  Hialeah sees a flash and thinks that Fisher has reached earth safely and hopes that her and the baby will soon join him. (The streak looks more like a fiery asteroid on a collision course with earth in a very nice video effect.)

Meanwhile Brickell, in a wheelchair, wants a baby and asks Miami, (Ashley Fuller) the voice of the space capsule, to show her baby pictures.  But Mint, her “friend,” is dead set against babies and baby pictures and wants to see animal pictures.

Eventually, Brickell and Mint decide to get pregnant at the same time.  There are only two men on board and neither are matches for these two “friends”. In the end, Miami artificially inseminates them.  What!?

Later, Dade and Palmer, fixing corroded cables, have a discussion about becoming a man and wearing the coat.  It is Palmer’s turn to wear the coat and becoming a father.  Nothing gets moved or fixed and they move on.

Throughout the process of day-to-day living and on several occasions, Miami goes dark and the craft goes into system failure before it is able to right itself and get things back to normal.  It is here that we learn that Dade is holding back secrets that he will not divulge until the time comes.

The musical is called Earthbound so it is my belief that the characters’ objective should be geared to getting off the space capsule and back onto earth no matter what it takes. I will address my comments about the actors, writers, and directors to that end.  

The characters in a musical must have an objective. The trick is to make the objective work with song, be conflicted about the objective, and get back to the planet.

JR Esposito as Dade does a nice job but as the character, he is in a bit of a predicament. He knows the final outcome, and he knows what is coming. He appears to be the captain, or leader of the surviving members of the group, and as such is a strong male figure. (The press guide says spiritual leader.) But something is missing, something in his objective or character, that would allow him to do what he must do to facilitate his objective. He needs to work on getting them back to earth, period.  The fact that his objective is not achieved does not matter.  He needs to get them back to earth. A believable myth must be pushed to an extreme reality.  He’s a captain who pushes this myth but in reality doesn’t believe it.  He, in effect, needs to have everyone believe that he will guide them home.

Chera Holland as Viscaya has a very nice presence on stage and an interesting characterization but it is an iniquitous character that is not fully developed.  Viscaya is “slightly” inattentive with some kind of dementia. She must fight hard to control herself to get to her purpose to accomplish her objective. She seems to have the knowledge that Dade has but cannot address or articulate her desires. Holland needs to acknowledge those moments that give her back the cognitive reasoning she needs to capture her objective.  If she says goodbye, she need to go to the window, and say goodbye to Dade in song and purpose.

Lindsey Mixon as Hialeah gives the poise that the name Hialeah means.  Mixon has a strong voice but is not really clear with her objective. Hialeah wants to have her baby and be with her husband.  The conflict is that she doesn’t know how to do it so she must find the answers. Finding the answers will get her off the ship safely with her baby and reunited with her husband.  But as the character, there is something wrong in her thinking and what she believes is real.  Does she really believe that burning up in the earth’s atmosphere will bring her back to life? If so, this is a dramatic characterization that needs further exploration.

Allison Perkins as Coral does a very fine job and has a remarkable number “Some Other Mother” which I totally enjoyed and thought was the best number in the show. In this number, she has come to the realization that all is not well for her and her baby. How she gets to this point is another matter. As the character, Coral seems to question her future mate’s sexual proclivities and, although she wants him, she doesn’t try hard enough to get him. Doesn’t she realize that the future of the human race is at stake, here and now? Perkins has a nice look and is wonderful in the role but would just like to see a little more conquering young love.

Jason Kobielus as Palmer is playing a character that is none too bright and is not young enough to not understand all that is presented before him. This role seems to be more suited for a younger character possibly 14 or 15 years old.  As this character, they have him performing actions on stage that a man of his age would know how to do, without hesitation, which includes a sexual act in which he seems totally lost and unable to perform. (Miami will show the videos if he needs them or doesn’t understand.)  But his relationship with Coral is non-existent.  The moment he truly sees her he should fall madly in love with her.  Also his objective is unattainable (whatever it was), and his voice, although pleasant at times, has the vibrato that reminds one of Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz.

Samantha Macher as Brickell has a very peculiar role.  She is in a wheelchair the entire time. Which leads to the comment:

In space, no one needs wheelchairs.

I was not really sure what the wheelchair was all about.  It was never explain. It didn’t seem to be part of the characterization and wasn’t used effectively if it was part of the characterization. (If Ms. Macher is infirmed, I apologize, but her missing leg appears hidden under the wheelchair.)  Her character needs something from her friend.  Brickell is afraid of becoming pregnant and needs someone to go with her to the infirmary.  Why she needs this, is not explained, possibly she understands the ranks are thinning and something needs to be done. But no one ever tells her that her biological clock is ticking. And her wry sense of characterization seems to say she only likes looking at baby pictures she really doesn’t want one.  Okay, so what would help her get off this space station?  It is her beautiful, intelligent, natural offspring, who will help her find the way. Her conflict is to convince her partner that it is in their best interest to conceive to get off this space rock. Her performance was very dry without a clear objective.

Mackenzie English is engaging as Mint. But as the character seems lost in her objective wanting only to come along for the ride. Surely she must want something, can’t get it because of a conflict, and makes concessions in order to facilitate the relationship. As the character she seems to be a bit of an airhead not knowing where to go or who to turn to.  But it is in her friend that she finds the answers. English needs to find the moment when all things come to a realization, where she finds and loses her way all in the same moment. These are just a few little things to add to a nice little performance.

Ashley Fuller plays the voice of the aircraft Miami.  She is never seen until curtain call but gave a terrific performance.  What a pleasant voice to have around the craft.  But this character needs a moment that totally destroys, and it must be a moment that destroys all hopes and dreams.

“Open the pod bay door, please HAL.
(No answer)
Open the pod bay door, please HAL.
(No answer)
Hello HAL do you read me? Hello HAL do you read me?
(No answer)
Do you read me, HAL?
(pause) Affirmative, Dave.  I read you.”  - 2001 A Space Odyssey

One can’t help but look at this musical and be completely fascinated by it. I did enjoy the mix of the music, the video, and a few special effects.  A lot of hard work went into the book by Adam Hahn and the music by Jonathan Price and Lyrics by Chana Wise and while a lot of things worked, the characters objectives did not move the story along and the music suffered from this non-movement.  We were all lost in space without a clear path.

In space, there must be a clear path.

Christian Levatino, the director, does a fine job having characters move from on part of the stage to the other, but requires another focus in characterization, style and motive to keep the story moving. This production needs a particular style, taken to extravagant measures to emphasize the moments that require moments that change the relationships and move the story along.

Most musicals have a clear through line.  It is something that takes them from point a to b.  But, we seem to know the outcome from the very beginning.  Not a way to go if the objective is to get to earth.

The relationships were not clear.  No one treated Hialeah with the respect she deserved, since she is carrying the one who might save them.  She should be coddled, praised, told to lie down keep her calm, throw the woman out of the wheelchair and have her sit in it, etc., Viscaya could not get through the “sealed door” because it ultimately is a dead end. And why doesn’t anyone bother to ask Miami why the door is sealed. Palmer was too shy to ask Coral out? Mint and Brickell were lovers or best friends who really never discovered things about each other during the course of their time on stage.  Why couldn’t they ask Miami for the answers? When does everyone come to the same conclusion?  And why?  And how does this affect them? And to what degree?

Wonderfully produced by Arden Haywood, Niki Nowak Tolnay and Bob Rusch.  The Set Design was by Zachary B. Guiler. The great Video Design was by Jake Weinheimer and the Lighting Design was by Wes Chew.  The Graphic Design by Michelle Ingram.  Stage Managed by Brett Fleisher. Musical Numbers Staged by JJ Thompson.  And very nice Electronica Arrangements and Musical Direction by Jonathan Price. 
In space, without a chance of getting home there is no hope.

The show is called Earthbound, not die in space.

Go and take someone who loves NASA, who loves the idea of space exploration, and who believes the world will end this December 21, 2012.  You might have a great time.   

Through July 15, 2012

Reservations:  800-838-3006

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