A master class in the ways of creativity sprung forth from MusicalFare’s 24-hour musical festival, held at the 710 Main Theatre this weekend.
The most obvious lesson was the fact that it’s hard to make a musical. And it’s not about the legendary backstage drama, the sparring producers and directors or the vicious stars and their understudies. It’s about creation.
Writing teams had all night to create a 15-minute musical with original music, lyrics and dialogue, before meeting with their directors and cast at 9 a.m. A full day of rehearsal, blocking and technical run-throughs follows. At 8 p.m. Saturday, ready or not, the musicals are presented. There’s no competition, no winner. Just feedback, dialogue and validation.
The evening kicked off with Randall Kramer and Donna Hoke’s four-person chamber piece about a man (John Kaczorowski) on a GPS scavenger hunt. He discovers a wedding ring near a derelict grain elevator, the narratives of which are keenly mirrored – commitment, abandonment, closure, rediscovery. He channels its past loves and begins to chart his own path.
Kramer’s classical piano training served him well as composer and pianist, but Hoke’s – and, presumably, Kramer’s – script was too broad and untethered for this small frame. They smartly painted only shades of their characters, but with vagueness and cliché plaguing every bit of dialogue, exposition was hard to find. Pathos works best in more careful measurement.
The second and third musicals presented comedy two ways: Chris Kelly, Brandon Barry and Phil Farugia’s parody of “Scarface” was a home run of comedic chutzpah, and Jason Bravo and John Elston’s satire of pop music and iPod escapism was a simultaneous tribute to and skewering of guilty pleasures. Each benefited from crafty editing that would seem impossible in this time frame, but which was duly noted.
Kelly’s direction of his group’s piece was beyond words. Alan Trinca, as cocaine king Tony Montana, exhibited the confidence and commitment of an actor three weeks into his character’s shoes. Maria Droz, Joe Demerly, Kerrykate Abel and Barry each gave outstanding comedic turns, spinning so far off the handles but landing so decisively back on their marks. Barry and Farugia’s tunes, and accompaniment, were as tight as their shirts, and references to “West Side Story” brought this particular room to rabid applause.
Bravo and Elston’s piece was subtler in its hilarity but just as wild. Four young earbudded strangers befriend each other on a subway car. They then form a pop supergroup – naturally – and narrate their rise and inevitable fall from international stardom. The deliciously disposable ABBA is their muse. Director Scott Behrend focused his group, led capably by Kevin Kennedy and Renee Landrigan, on the absurdities of fame-seeking daydreaming.
But it was the evening’s final piece, led by Michael Walline and Theresa Quinn, that took home the nonexistent prize. Walline drove a personal piece of storytelling, about his dying father’s internal monologue as he lay with advanced Parkinson’s, to places where even full-length musical theater rarely goes. It was a daring, provocative piece of dance theater that constantly negotiates abstraction with realism, a masterful blend of artistry that begs for expansion but is best left alone. Walline’s use of Queen’s music was a divine choice, its theatricality ripe for interpretation.
Its elegance provided a coda to the evening’s exploration of creativity, which just as easily might have fallen to gimmick. It proved that parameters and editing are essential to refinement. It proved that the most valuable asset in any tool kit is the inspiration in your own gut, and if that is trusted, originality is all yours. And it proved that the pleasure, once again, was all ours.