Off Broadway Reviews
Cyclops: A Rock Opera
The New York Musical Theatre Festival 2011
If you're not the Williamsburg type, you may have a hard time believing that a musical set there, and about its trendy denizens, would have anything to offer you. Fucking Hipsters, running at Peter Norton Space through October 8 as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, isn't likely to change your mind outright, but it might cause you to think twice in the future, at least before writing off the titular characters' music.
Lori Scarlett (music and lyrics) and John Ballinger (music) have written a swath of catchy songs in a sweep of styles that capture not just the clubs hipsters play and the haze they wade through, but also the cultural zeitgeist they represent. "Mean It (But I Don't) But I Do" is a swift-talking pick-up, whereas "Hypothetical Girl" is more roundabout romantic; "OMG!" proves a cheeky juxtaposition of emotional and Internet abbreviations; and intricate musical scenes like "Crazy Ex," a kinetic but self-imploding biography, and "Josie" and "Didja Hear?", about Big Romance News percolating throughout the community, are high level whether considered music or narrative. Only an expectant father's lament of his unreadiness stumbles, and there primarily because "Sure Enough" is, sure enough, no "Soliloquy."
Unfortunately, the libretto does not scale equivalent heights. Keythe Farley, who co-authored (with Brian Flemming) the delightful book to Bat Boy, has turned away no cliché here. The show centers on a hipster band, called Mark Twain's Moustache, that's found professional success but is breaking apart at its personal seams. The keyboardist is in love with the front man, who breaks her heart when he falls for someone else; that someone else, in turn, rends the band's trust for each other, and either is or isn't an expert con artist preying on what little money they've accumulated. How that turns out is not exactly difficult to predict.
Trying to make something exciting of the ho-hum situations and strained dialogue is too much for the cast, but they're otherwise impressive. Brandon Wardell as the front man, Heather Robb as his in-group almostlove interest, Luke Smith and Kyle Lamar Mitchell as the married couple who round out the band, and the fierce-voiced Emily Borromeo as the alluring but secretive woman threatening to tear them all apart are at the top of their game. As is John Carrafa, whose direction and limited choreography highlight what energy the book lets the show generate.
There's definitely potential for Fucking Hipsters. The interesting concept at its heart is that these characters are well-meaning Brooklynites who just haven't caught on to the way the world truly works, and the show would play better with this idea front and center from start to finish. As currently structured, however, you sympathy for these fantasy hipsters is too diluted by the plethora of stereotypes and tropes that the actual article would be the first ones to identify and denounce.
Cyclops: A Rock Opera
Sometimes a show can make all the right choices for itself and still not be right. That's the case with Cyclops: A Rock Opera, playing at the 47th Street Theatre in a mounting that originated with the Los Angelesbased Psittacus Productions. Based on the sole extant Greek satyr play of the same title (minus the "rock opera" part, of course), which was written by Euripides, it blends metal, indie, alt, and even folk stylings into a retelling of the tale of Odysseus that demonstrates thoughtfulness and fidelity but no cleverness.
That's why, despite its generally successful blending of the in-your-face appeal of a rock concert with the coordinated surreality of Greek theatre, it ultimately doesn't come together. The original play, if not exactly hilarious by contemporary standards, tempers its seriousness with buoyancy and lightheartedness. This treatment by Louis Butelli (book), Chas Libretto (book and lyrics), Jayson Landon Marcus (music and lyrics), and Benjamin Sherman (music and lyrics) is steeped in angst, darkness, and bitter irony, which makes its portentous story pretentious and its musings about the personal and psychological ravages of war less pleasant to swallow than in Euripides's version.
Without some sense of fun at play, the tale of how Odysseus (Libretto) frees the enslaved Satyrs from their one-eyed master Polyphemus (Marcus) with copious booze, a well-timed dagger thrust, and the divine assistance of Dionysus himself (Korie Blossey) is closer to brutal than to beguiling. Because there are but scraps of dialogue present, and the myriad muddied-by-their-amplification songs comment at best vaguely on the action, the show unfolds more as a series of smoky, furry, and bleating tableaux than it does coherent and compelling drama.
Still, the actors go for broke with it all, Butelli has directed with emphatic attitude, and the onstage Satyr band (Jim Bertini, Paul Corning, Chris St. Hilaire, and Sherman) really cooks. Cyclops is a fascinating premise solidly executed, but separated as it is from its original whimsy the eye doesn't quite have it.
Cyclops: A Rock Opera