Monday, December 10, 2012
Theater review: On the Eve at Magnolia Lounge will rock your socks off
The rock 'n roll musical proves time travel is cool, if you had any doubts.
FAIR PARK Spectacular, nothing less than spectacular! Spacegrove Productions & Nouveau 47 Theatre presents a new rock musical with style, excitement, phenomenal vocals and astounding performances.
“History is revision, words are power, time travel is cool.” With an introduction like that, how can you not be intrigued? The new rock musical On the Eve is a superb combination of musical presentation(s) that will amaze you. The creators and collaborators of this new work definitely know what they are doing and have obviously taken the time to get it right. Creating and producing any new stage piece is an immense undertaking, and unless you’ve been in that process, you’ll never know the hard work, endless hours, frustrations, excitement, creative differences, script cuts, songs changes and new elements that have to be created for a full production. I myself have just spent a year in that process and have a unique perspective on it ... trust me, it isn’t easy folks. This team, in its entirety, deserved the standing ovation they received at the performance I attended. Bravo to everyone involved in this new smash hit!
Now, to the story ... well, I just don’t know how to explain it. There are so many twists, turns, plots and alternative realities, you just have to experience it for yourself. I found myself many times questioning my own morality and realities throughout the show, yet somehow understood everything that had just happened by the end and didn’t question how I understood it (which I’ll admit was a bit unnerving). It primarily involves Marie Antoinette, a loosely-labeled “hero” astronaut from the future who plays the tuba, a time traveling hot air balloon, altered realities, a semi-psychotic narrator of their “reality” that descends into madness, Irish step dancers and yes… even a talking statue that bleeds. As I said, how do you explain it? Generally On the Eve deals with life’s decisions, how they affect you and those around you and, if you could, would you try to change them hoping for a “better” outcome? It’s a truly brilliant concept and its presentation is simply perfect.
Set Designer Jeffrey Schmidt gives you an amazing setting to experience this unique performance. The show is presented in the historic, lovely and intimate Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park. It can be a challenging space to perform in, being a three-sided thrust with the audience basically right on stage, but Mr. Schmidt turns it into a masterpiece of eye candy, surprises and functionality. Walking into the theater proper, you immediately know this is going to be something very different. There are planets hang from the ceiling, multiple performance levels, catwalks, a giant parachute backdrop that doubles for some amazing special effects, a working turntable on stage (which makes for some stunning staging with the actors on it) and a lovely red couch that is actually used for patrons.
The design has a simple anarchy about it, with just the right amount of detailed stage decoration. The live band, which is actually built into the set, interacts with the show and, if you watch carefully, offer some amazing facial expressions and even occasionally act as their own “characters” in the show. I have never seen the Magnolia transformed this elaborately, but it works perfectly.
Jeffrey Schmidt’s direction is also flawless. He uses every inch of the theater to present this show and draws you into every scene with flair, purpose and decision. Every moment is a true pleasure to watch and you are never lost in the story. It’s like being a kid in a toy store looking at everything, wanting to play and push the shiny red button to see what happens. Mr. Schmidt grabs your hand, says come with me, and you go along on the journey with him smiling and excited.
Martha Harms’ costuming in this show is just “out of this world." Multiple layers on almost every performer, unique eye catching designs with color, or stark ones with none identify each and every character portrayed in the show. Again, the theme of anarchy filters into the costuming with bold statements and simple details. For example, the Talking Statue that bleeds is expertly crafted and uniquely functional. I have to admit though, my favorite was Chase Spacegrove’s outfit; it’s just too cool with his space helmet, gun holster, astronaut’s jacket with space patches/insignias and what every space time traveler needs ... jeans with stars on them.
Technical direction by William Donald Covington XIII is expertly achieved throughout the production. There are complicated moments and special effects (some are spoilers, which I won’t reveal) that are executed perfectly. It is very obvious a lot of preparation and design skills went into his direction, which allows for stunning results. Congratulations on a job very well Mr. Covington.
Lighting design by Carl Munoz coupled with projections by Shawn Magill are breathtaking. It is amazing what can be done with limited equipment and spatial restrictions, but this team surpassed my every expectation all evening. Wonderfully deep hues of red, purple, green, sharp down lighting and sometimes brash white light create numerous pictures that keep you in awe. The projections that are perfectly designed and timed add to the story unfolding, and at no time distract you from the message or action. Without this combining of design perfection, the production simply would not be the same.
Kellen Voss’ sound design and engineering is just breathtaking. This is a rock musical, so you expect the sound to be impressive. Impressive doesn’t even come close to describing the wall of sound you are enveloped in. Even the great Phil Spector himself would be truly amazed with this production’s sound elements and quality. Everything is balanced, including more than six microphones on stands located all over the theater, special effects and live band levels. You are completely taken in and surrender to this production’s remarkable sound quality throughout the entire evening. And yes, it’s loud, as it should be in a rock musical.
Special recognition has to go to Property Designer Diana Gonzalez and specialty props designers Caleb Massey and Daniela Bojorquez for their work in this show. There are an amazing amount of props in this show and every one of them is designed expertly. From the smallest book to a remarkable trunk of secrets (my name for it) and Spacegrove’s gun, you are always impressed and each works splendidly. I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much detail went into some of these props, like Spacegrove’s gun. You have to go to the show’s website (see “The Legend of Spacegrove’s Gun”) to really appreciate the dedication and professionalism these designers have to this production.
Now, I’ve saved the best for last; yes folks, it gets better! The cast of singers, dancers, actors and musicians in this show are without a doubt Broadway caliber. The creators have assembled the best and brightest talent in the region and it defiantly shows. The music and lyrics creators, members of the popular local band Home by Hovercraft use most of the band’s original music in the show, and when the full company joins in and performs the exquisite music, it’s truly amazing. The entire ensemble is spectacular, but there are a few standouts. The three male leads; Gregory Lush, Brian Witkowicz and Seth Magill are remarkable on stage. Each one of these extraordinarily talented men brings to their performance such exquisite style, uniqueness and personality the likes of which I’ve rarely seen in large scale professional performances.
Lush’s portrayal of the Talking Man (basically the narrator) just cannot be compared to any other. He is subtlety dark, controlling and yet vulnerable at times. His unnerving deliveries in some cases send shivers up your spine and yet you are enraptured with him when he is on stage. Vocally, nothing can be said but WOW! It is a true pleasure to see this seasoned veteran of the stage as he performs this role. He has created a stunning character you will never forget.
Joseph, played by Brian Witkowicz, draws you in and never lets you go. His character choices of compassion, sometimes dark transcendence into madness and deep feeling of loss and love are just wonderful. Vocally he stands out with such a mesmerizing tone in his voice you are thoroughly involved with his performances.
Seth Magill, playing Chase Spacegrove, is nothing short of an amazing spectacle on stage to behold. Vocally he’s simply amazing and as a musician you are blown away. As one of the co-creators of the music and lyrics, it’s obvious this is his vision and he’s deeply invested in the vocals, but his interpretation of the hero-Spacegrove lacks in nothing and is truly exciting to watch. Magill has taken the dialogue written by Michael Federico and created a wonderfully charming, sometimes seedy but always lovable character that you can’t take your eyes off of.
The women (of all ages) leading this show are not to be left out as they command the stage also whenever they are on it. Each presents a wonderful dynamic to the performance and every one of them can sing like you won’t believe.
Martha Harms, playing Antoinette and Marie, is astounding. Vocally, she is brilliant and as an actress she shines on stage. She has to represent many different versions of her character in many different times and every choice is perfect. From the over-the-top queen to the slightly disturbed Marie, you are captivated with Harms every moment on stage. (I'll never think of "royal love-making" and eating cake the same way again.)
The living and bleeding Statue played by Maryam Baig is nothing short of brilliant on stage. The subtle facial expressions and emotions she exudes as her character are enthralling and you feel her every aspect. When she embarks on the time traveling adventure her changes are perfect and you continue to feel as if she is speaking right to you with every word spoken.
The lovely Tara Magill, playing Young Antoinette and Young Marie is a star in the making. Yes, she’s a young girl, but it’s not the cutesy-child performance everyone would “awwwww” to. This young actress gives you fully developed characters whenever she’s on stage and sings beautifully. She will definitely be leaving her mark in the industry for many more years to come and it is a true pleasure to see her perform a job very well done.
As I have mentioned, the entire ensemble cast is spectacular. Surprisingly, it is a large ensemble yet every member shines, having well developed characters and singing amazingly. Most new works try to follow the industry rules for commercial success in cast sizes for modern plays and musicals, and like everything else in this production, they break the rules and do it with astounding success.
You definitely have to take the time to experience this exciting new rock musical. Let me be the first to say I’m sure it’s New York bound. I’d love to be there opening night at say, Circle in the Square Theatre, sit back, and revel in the success, talent and truly extraordinary creation called On The Eve created right here in Dallas.
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