Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review: A Powerhouse of a Production

The stories we don't know about the people we may tend to be some of the most engaging sources of art. Discovering what exactly made that person tick and become the person of familiarity. In Sinking Ship's production of Powerhouse, the melodic and intricate life of Raymond Scott is given the theatrical treatment in such glorious manner.
Tackling the life of music super genius Raymond Scott, Powerhouse follows the life of a man who went from composer to infamous bandleader all while creating a super songstress, inventing a new form of music, and selling away his canon of work that became cartoon infamy. Written by Josh Luxenberg and the Sinking Ship Ensemble, Powerhouse, inspired by one of Scott’s biggest hits, is a celebration of passion and art through the lens of an unsung hero. Raymond Scott was an American composer and conductor of the hit radio and television program “Your Hit Parade”. Luxenberg depicts the man rightly as a legend ahead of his time. The intricacies of Scott's music theory is breathtaking to watch come to life on stage. Luxenberg and director Jon Levin take a musical world and ensure that the theatricality and musicality are married uniformly. Powerhouse also delves into the personal life of Scott who began a dangerous affair of professional and romantic interest with a young girl who he molded into Dorothy Collins. By cleverly interspersing his personal life alongside his professional life allowed the struggles and balance of a passionate man shine through. The script thrives on the ability to pick up on context clues. Allowing the audience to string the notes together is a nice touch but with an abundance of visual wonder, integral plot points may be lost. The most important of which is Scott's cosmetic surgery as he transformed from radio to television star. The moment was so fast that it was barely recognizable so later when Scott’s first wife Pearl angrily bashes him about it, it does not hold enough weight. The other side of the Scott story that is not only fascinating but expertly executed in Powerhouse is the plot line of Warner Brothers acquiring his canon of music for their cartoons "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies". With rights seemingly being an issue, the cartoon characters that we know and love are given an insanely innovative makeover, becoming an otter and a blue-footed boobie, with the insanely impeccable voice work by Eric Wright. Luxenberg cleverly sets up this by foreshadowing three animators creating two cartoon characters through puppet and fast-paced comedy. As the play continues on we see a little more and a little more until we are given full blown mini movies all done through skillful puppetry by the ensemble. The animation sequence, with stunning puppets designed by The Puppet Kitchen, gave this piece so much brilliance. It can make any adult feel like a child again.
photo courtesy of Justin Khalifa
The entire ensemble of seven were as cohesive as cohesive can be. Erik Lochtefeld transformed into Raymond Scott with ease, adopting a specific vocal pattern and wonderful mannerisms. It truly was a powerhouse performance. Portraying his true love, through art and heart, Hanley Smith was simply ravishing as Dorothy Collins. Smith has the voice of an angel and gave Collins such an exquisite journey. The trio of Tyler Bunch, Spencer Lott, and Eric Wright were out of this world as the Animators, with Wright truly stealing the show. Their comedic timing was on par and their physical work, through puppetry and themselves, was a joy to watch.
Director Levin took a near perfect script and left the audience wanting more. In a piece that relied so heavily on theatricality, Levin was able to showcase simplicity through his staging. He kept the action fast paced and the allowed the story to carry a great momentum. If anything could have been streamlined it would be the clunky and not so attractive rolling desks designed by Carolyn Mraz. They were occasionally a hindrance to Levin’s transitions as the pieces were not fitting properly and the wheels would get caught on the curtains. While they did offer some unique staging devices, they were just not as beautiful as everything else in the show. The lighting design by Nicholas Houfek was mesmerizing from start to finish. With a colorful light show during walk in to transforming the grey curtains into a rainbow color splash, it was nothing short of a symphony of vibrancy through light. The costume design by Erin Schultz served the period quite well. The monochromatic approach allowed for the lights to give a nice touch but in the final dream sequence, you almost wished color would appear in the costumes.
Powerhouse is an extraordinary venture of whimsy and passion. Sinking Ship has created a piece that needs to go behind The New Ohio. Powerhouse is a play for artists. It’s a play for nostalgia. It’s a play for the future.