I've been trying to find time to finish up this post...I do want to get something up about the big productions the other night, even though it's been more than a week now....so here's a quick write-up.
Friday was a night of extravaganzas, what with Brian Speaker's rock opera The Mars Chronicles and Level 2's puppet saga Love is Mud. It was interesting to see the pieces back to back and aside from anything else, the folks behind them deserve credit for their ambition and determination in pulling them off.
The Mars Chronicles tells the story of Apollo Vesta, who is sent to explore Mars and is the first earth explorer to walk on the planet's surface. While stranded, Apollo encounters an underground world, Eros, where he meets resistance from the underworld Commander Terminus. Even though I love musical theatre, I've never been a huge fan of rock operas, which often seem overblown. While I love the songs in Tommy, for example as a whole piece I've never found it terribly captivating. I had that feeling going into The Mars Chronicles, but I must say that, by the end it won me over. The songs range in style from gentle duets to epic narratives. There was some very nice singing in the lovely songs between Apollo (played by Brian) and his wife Aurora (sung by Rachel Devlin). Ariel Bitran nearly stole the show singing about the United Nations Space Organization (check it out on MySpace). I was particularly impressed by the lavish song "Media." I've heard Brian performing these songs one by one over the last year or so, but it was interesting to hear them in context. Brian's company comprised Ben Krieger, Rachel Devlin, Ariel Bitran, Dan Costello, and Emily Moment. The band featured John Rubin, Nate Goheen, Scott Loving, Ben Krieger (on some squealy synth sounds), Brian, and Dan Costello.
Level 2's Puppet production Love is Mud, which had a run of four nights at Sidewalk, was just as impressive, if not more. The piece is a musical love story between puppets, with all the tribulations of actual relationships. Ben Folstein is the driving creative force behind the project, but he had a company of musicians, singers and puppeteers with him to pull to pull it off. Runt of the Litter, a forlorn establishing song, is still stuck in my head from hearing it at the Open Mic and the performance the other night. There are numerous other well-written songs throughout including Excellent Choice, sung at the puppets' first big date. There's some explicit puppet sex, and later some heavy puppet drinking after the sad puppet break-up. The puppets are created in a deliberately rough-hewn paper maché style, but there was lots of clever design in the characters and scenes, including a moving subway. Ben, his musicians, and singer/actors were positioned stage right and a tall puppet theatre was set up center stage. I was very impressed by the show, especially considering the effort it must have taken to write all the material; make the puppets, stage, and scenery; cast, and rehearse it, etc. My memory of the specifics has grown a little hazy over the last week, and you kind of have to see it anyway to get the point. But it was amazing, actually, to see this world that Ben and his company created come to life.
I was glad to get a chance to hear a full dose of Patsy Grace. Patsy was a regular figure at Sidewalk well before my time but later moved out of New York. It seems she has recently returned and is hanging out at Sidewalk once again. She has a voice that has a bit of a catch to it, which gives a nice sound to her gentle and emotional songs. Patsy played with cellist Ken Hashimoto (?) which formed a nice blend. Hope to have a chance to hear Patsy again soon.