Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Wisey Best Music: Elephant's Graveyard, Balagan

The nominees for best music for 2009 were:

Elephant's Graveyard, Balagan Theatre. Jake Groshong, musical director.
The Full Monty, Balagan Theatre. Kimberly Dare, musical director.
Rock 'n' Roll, ACT. Kurt Beattie, director.
Gutenberg! The Musical! ArtsWest. Music direction by Kim Dare.
The 14/48 band. Alyssa Keene, lead singer.

Elephant's Graveyard is a disturbing, heartbreaking story, and the music in Balagan Theatre's production was an inextricable part of the pathos. Music set the stage, with the players playing and singing period music as the audience members took their seats and then moving right into the play. Director Jason Harber had the entire cast on stage throughout the entire play—no entrances and exits—and the actors took up and put down their instruments throughout the play without breaking character or our attention. This was not a musical; characters didn't suddenly and inexplicably break out into a musical number. Music was woven in more like a score, judiciously and seamlessly. The sounds—and the silences—were used to build tension until we were all taut as strings.

The cast turned in strong acting performances from actors who are also talented musicians, including: Jake Groshong, guitar and vocals; Marty Ofsowitz, guitar and vocals; Banton Foster, banjo; Joanna Horowitz, vocals. The original music was composed or adapted and arranged by musical director Jake Groshong.

I love to see live music integrated into the live performance of a play. The music in Elephant's Graveyard was exceptionally creative and purposeful, earning them the Wisey for Best Music 2009.

As much as I prefer live music to recorded at the theater, I'm not dogmatic about it, and sometimes recorded music is entirely appropriate. My foot was tapping with the tour through rock 'n' roll and Czech history at ACT's production of Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll. And where did they get all that vinyl?

But live music is best and one of the 892 things I love about 14/48 The World's Quickest Theater Festival is the 14/48 Band. They do original music, arrangements, and foley sound effects on a theme revealed the night before for seven plays delivered that morning; and then they do it again the next night with a new theme and seven new plays. They're amazing. We especially enjoyed the band for the July 31 and August 1 weekend, with Alyssa Keene's killer vocals and stage presence.

Speaking of Alyssa Keene, we enjoyed her performance as Georgie in Balagan Theatre's The Full Monty. This is a musical, of course, and it's a lot of fun. Music director and pianist Kimberly Dare did a terrific job and all of the cast were game. Brave souls. Personally, I think I'd rather take all of my clothes off in front of an audience than sing in front of an audience. Austin Garrison and Evan Woltz turned in memorable performances (and I mean musically!).

Speaking of Evan Woltz, he was half of the cast for ArtsWest's Gutenberg! The Musical! He and Chris Shea gave us a delightful romp through this play-within-a-play. And speaking of Kim Dare, she was musical director and pianist for this production as well. It sounds like with Ms. Dare on the scene we can look forward to more great music.

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