On the cusp. On the edge. On the brink. On the mark. On the lam. On the nose. On the money. On The Eve…. Mother Nature, blood-red in tooth and claw, jangles her gaudy bangles and flashes a predatory grin, relishing the prospect of portentous paradigm shift in Nouveau 47’s ribald, uninhibited, anti-establishment World Premiere rock musical “On the Eve”, book by Michael Federico with songs written and played live by local band Home By Hovercraft. “History is Revision. Words are Power. Time Travel is Cool.” Sitting through its performance (moderately full house on a sunny Sunday afternoon) is how I imagine injecting the sweetest heroin might feel, minus the dirty needle and nasty addictive aspect, pure joy flowing straight to the heart. It’s flawed. It gets repetitive. It’s loud. But what a glorious emergence of a new, raw, honest, raucous, energized, sensual, celebratory work of art. You want to be there, let a piece of it rub off, seep into your pores, wear down your world-weary cynicism as ye slouch towards Bethlehem, Ozymandias. Glimpse cast members rockin’ out to the onstage beat back stage. Join in. At the Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park. Thursday Night (Dec 6th) and Sunday Afternoon (Dec 9th) will be PAY WHAT YOU CAN AT THE DOOR, if seats are still available.
“This is the almost entirely true story of Marie Antoinette and the first time-traveling hot air balloon,” boasts the promo for the show. A hot air balloon in the Magnolia Lounge? Stage director and intrepid set designer Jeffrey Schmidt transforms what has to be one of the most sterile, limited stage venues in the region into a vibrant performance space filled with enchanted beings, haunting effects and sensory surprises. Reverberating somewhere between “La Boheme” (Puccini), “Les Miserables” (Hugo), “A Clockwork Orange” (Kubrick) and “Arcadia” (Stoppard), Federico’s “On the Eve” encourages Schmidt’s resourceful imagination to take flight, as in hot air balloon, and so… no spoiler hints from me. Revel in the transformations, yourself. A theatre company doesn’t need a huge budget and all the latest and greatest technical gimmicks when it has bold imagination and a creative script at free play together.
Performances? Some splendid turns. That Paragon of Absurdist and Brechtian Vibe, Greg Lush, delights with his performance as The Talking Man. His portrayal fits somewhere into the same family as the Emcee from “Cabaret”, Mack the Knife from “Threepenny Opera” and Tom Jones (Henry Fielding’s 18th century rapscallion roué, not the 1960’s British pop song balladeer). As the villainous, tyrannical narrator, Lush is equally at ease belting rock lyrics into a handheld microphone as he is berating his fellow characters for ‘going off script’ or engaging in physical pratfalls. He appears to have as much fun performing The Talking Man as the audience takes delight in watching him. Cheers when he finally gets his well-deserved comeuppance! Maryam Baig creates a splendid, ethereal vision as a female statue, ‘she who bleeds and looks pretty’ and engenders palpable excitement as she fires up the engine of paradigm shift. Martha Harms makes an utterly clueless, hilarious bimbo Marie Antoinette in Act One; feminists take heart as she sheds her silly trappings in Act Two and strides brazenly into the new dimension. Playwright Federico partners Harms’ Marie with a pre-teen version of herself, played by Tara Magill, fascinating to watch in both its psychological aspect and in a clever mirroring moment right out of Viola Spolin. In a separate thread, Jenny Ledel and Brian Witcowicz play a romantic “Everyman & Woman” couple in desperate need of a marriage counselor. Always engaging as performers, these two transform and transcend stereotypes in Act Two with as much stage-worthy credibility as the actors with more fantasy-based characters do. The Hero’s Journey figures in here as well (no, it’s not a four hour opus); Seth Magill, channeling swaggering Harrison Ford from “Star Wars”, doesn’t disappoint, either as a singer (he co-wrote the show’s music with wife Shawn and leads the band Home by Hovercraft) or as a key character advancing the plot and partaking of the transformational updraft. The balance of the ensemble fleshes up and out the show with verve and joyful absurdity. It’s a tight performance space, considering a live band shares it with the actors; Schmidt’s direction fills the acting area well, never allowing a sense of overcrowding to impinge. Choreography and movement, with occasional energetic, fast-paced, in your face combat by Sara Romersberger, reinforces the work’s style and supports key characters’ arcs as written. Script could use a tad of tightening up, refocusing (I tend to think most shows are too long). But why quibble, critic? It’s launched and soaring into the universe, up, up and away, full steam ahead….
Home by Hovercraft’s music drives “On The Eve” forward with Niagra Falls-like surge. It pounds resoundingly to the ever-present thunder of two Irish dancers’ boots, an anachronistic but appealing touch (Abbey Magill and Shannon McCauley). I wish there was a bit more variety to the song styles, and I found it hard to understand all the lyrics in the acoustically challenged theater space, given the volume at which this eclectic rock band plays. Grouchy old critic? Home by Hovercraft band members include: Shawn Magill (piano, percussion); Max Hartman (drums); Johnny Sequenzia (mandolin, harmonica). I thought I heard a guitar in the mix? And Seth Magill steps beyond Hero mode to play tuba ( imagine, if you can, Harrison Ford’s Hans Solo as a tuba player, much less a strong singer). “On The Eve” is one of the most genuine, risky, creative, committed stage works I’ve had the pleasure to experience this year. It should be On Your Schedule to attend. You’ll come out smarter, sexier and happier, after.
“On The Eve”, created by Michael Federico and Shawn and Seth Magill, enjoys its World Premiere through December 15, 2012 at the Margot Jones Theater in the Magnolia Lounge at Fair Park, produced by Nouveau47 Theatre in association with Spacegrove Productions LLC.
More Information: http://www.ontheevemusical.com
CAST: Gregory Lush, Martha Harms, Jenny Ledel, Brian Witkowicz, Maryam Baig, Seth Magill, Ian Ferguson, Stephen Witkowicz, Sarah Duc, Aspen Taylor, Dante Flores, Tara Magill, with special appearances by Max Hartman and Johnny Sequenzia
PHOTOS: Jeffrey Schmidt