The Millennium Musical
(abridged to the 21st century)
"From Beowulf to Baywatch," claims The Reduced Shakespeare Company, but The Millennium Musical is more than that. Reed Martin & Austin Tichenor (lyrics and book) along with Nick Graham (music) have created a quick-paced, fun, top drawer piece of musical comedy entertainment. Martin and Tichenor team with RSC's newest cast member, Dee Ryan, to form the trio which guides us through selective highlights of the last 525 million minutes (or so) of civilization, presented in just over 100 minutes of real time.
Each song is a delight; every skit is inspired. It's more fun that Cliff's Notes ever were. Ok, that's not saying much, but who could be bored by this history lesson? Satire and puns abound, with no famous earthling or ethnic group spared.
After the introductory "History Ain't What it Used to Be", which includes fine retro disco choreography, the trek is divided into six sections, each introduced by a digital voice from Austin's off stage "computer": The Dark Ages ("Four Nordsmen of the Apocalypse"), The Middle Ages ("Rats", a tribute to memories of the Black Plague), The Renaissance (Joan of Arc conducts a talk show with the voices in her head; special effects in the Michelangelo skit make you think you're really on the ceiling!), The Enlightenment (the cast in tutus perform a Tchaikovsky tribute to gays in history), The Industrial Revolution ("Flush Your Troubles Away" from the man whose name provided the world with both a verb and a noun, Thomas Crapper), The Information Age (Gill Bates & Coward Spurn, plus "The Thrill of the Pill").
Many songs are pastiches of period music, but not the historical periods in which the songs are presented. Country Western, Fifties Doo-wop, more disco, gospel, and accordion music, all sprinkled throughout the Millennium with more plays-on-words and new ways to look at things than one can imagine. For instance, you know Van Gogh and Monet were Impressionists, but have you ever imagined them actually doing impressions? Not even Vegas has Van Gogh "doing" Jimmy Stewart.
The company offers ad libs and improv, involving the audience for more laughs. There were a few local jokes which I'm sure will be adjusted to the locale as the show continues its tour. And they sprayed the audience with high-powered squirt guns. (Sorry to ruin the surprise).
Austin and Tichenor have been with the company for several years and Ryan fits in with these wacky guys perfectly. All three are gifted comedians and their singing voices are much more than adequate. It's surprising they have not done a musical before now.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company has been in existence since 1981. Founded by Daniel Singer, the RSC has had several cast changes. The company has entertained thousands, through live performances (many playhouses as well as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Kennedy Center, the White House, Just for Laughs Festival, and many more), on television (Britain's Channel Four, BBC, and several U.S. entertainment shows), and on radio (the BBC World Service, and NPR). The productions have included reductions of many pieces and collections, all of which were previously far too long: The Complete Works of Williams Shakespeare (abridged), The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), The Complete History of America (abridged), a reduced version of the Edinburgh Festival, Gone With the Wind II - Scarlet Fever, and the mini version of the entire year of 1992 for Time magazine.
Is The Millennium Musical perfect? Well, no. There are some parts of the whole that don't work well (the computer voice, the Hitler-Khan Duet -- ok, it sounds funny). Would I love it more if it were perfect? Probably not. Maybe when/if it makes it to NYC it will be more slick and polished, but the combination of the intimacy of the Pittsburgh Public Theatre and the small, but lively troupe (only a Super Soaker shot away!) created the feeling that we were part of an evolution, as if the jokes were just for us. A fine combination indeed.
Also see my interview with Reed Martin.
The Millennium Musical runs through December 20 at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre. For ticket information, please call (412)321-9800. Ticket prices range from $15 - $30. However, as always, the Public Theatre encourages young people to join the theatre experience by offering $10 tickets (not rush - these are available in advance) to anyone under 25 or with a student ID. Senior Citizen prices also available.
Click here to see the 1999 Schedule for
The Millennium Musical
-- Ann Miner