Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: Brass City Blues

Write what you know is something all writers take to heart. Sometimes they take it a little too seriously. In Eddie and the Palaceades, writer and lyricist Roy O’Neil pays homage to the Palace Theater in “Brass City” as the fictional hometown band Eddie and the Palaceades try to save the theater from turning into another corporate America graveyard.
Eddie and the Palaceades follows titular Eddie as he vows to save the venue that got him his big break and jumpstart of memories. Corrupt mayor Biggie Williams is hoping to demolish the Palace Theater and turn into shopping malls and the like. And along the way there is an assortment of characters that fill in for potential loopholes within the main story. With a title that boasts the band’s name, you would think that the story was all about them. But it’s not. Sure we meet Eddie and his wife Gracie and his best friend Vinny, but with so many subplots including daughter Mary’s conflict about her career and disrespecting her town, Biggie’s loneliness, and Mary and Ryan’s romance, among others, the character arcs never truly get completed. When answering the question “what is the musical about” generates multiple answers, you know the book needs some work. In the program note by O’Neill, he states that the work is still in development and scenes have been pulled out, you have to wonder how long it originally was and what it would be like had the subplots been eliminated. Despite the “incompleteness”, the book truly dragged the musical down. Stylistically, the musical had so many varieties it didn’t know what it wanted to be. From campy musical theater to straight-laced characters, the world was muddy. With big characters like Biggie, pun intended, and grand choreography musical comedy is in full throttle, but against other moments of realness, the intent doesn’t quite mesh. Additionally, with a song called “Bangarang” as the big number for the band, you can’t help but feel it’s a reference to “Hook”, or even Skrillex, which is clearly much after the bands’ time.
Art should be about the artists’ passion for their project, but this musical meant more to the creator. The majority of the audience, current and future, will not know what or where “Brass City” is. It’s not meant to be a “Anytown, USA”. O’Neil pays homage to his hometown, Waterbury, Connecticut. The location is such an essential character in the musical it needed clarity. This writer to audience disconnect is a huge hindrance to connecting to the importance of this location.
As title character Eddie, Bill E. Dietrich did an exceptional job with the material, rocking hard to Stephen Feigenbaum’s score. Dietrich has a wonderful voice for the score but was largely let down by the rest of the ensemble. Kayleen Seidl as daughter Mary has a pure voice, playing a part that wanted so much to be fleshed out. Deep within the ensemble were excellent performances by Annie Edgerton and Luke Hoback, owning their larger than life bit characters.
Like the book, Jamibeth Margolis’ direction was all over the map, perhaps due to the blurred intent. The set by Duane Pagano looked as if it came straight from storage at a community theater. Sure, the restraints of the festival setting can be a struggle for a designer, but the design didn’t match the style of the show.
Passion in a project is the backbone to art. But translating that passion for the audience is the key for a successful work. Eddie and the Palaceades has much work to be done before its next reincarnation.