Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Review: Sweep Me, Please!

We all have fantasies of what the future will bring. Collectively, we seem to have imagined the future as some grand electronic cyber world overtaken by technology and corporations. In William Moulton and M.M. De Voe's R/evolution, cloning is successful and when an experiment goes array, the distant past reminds just how mundane and stoic the future is.
Like so many failed musicals set in the future, R/Evolution is set in a world run by corporation where the bad apple goes viral and instant change is swept through the land. The story reads like a futuristic sci-fi “Frankenstein”. A group of technicians use DNA and stem cell to experiment on bringing a person to life. When the creature does come to life, it's revealed that deep down in the DNA, memories are stored. Abby, the human experiment, remembers her past and sets on a mission to get a second chance at life. And that's just one of the plot lines. R/evolution is high concept. There is a lot going on. And it’s long and drawn out. From super science to a bizarre love scenario to dance interludes, the two act mammoth of a show doesn't quite know the direction it truly wants to go. Moulton and De Voe's script is littered in scientific lingo that causes more confusion than it should. Being able to allow the audience to get on board for the journey is integral to avoid camp. The sci-fi fantasy genre on stage has a history of being accidentally hokey. The duo did a good job at avoiding this. That was until things got sexy. And that's when the giggles and face palms came. While the discovery of love makes sense in this world and for these characters, it's hard for an audience to not laugh knowing what we know and how Moulton presents it. And it only gets worse once the pregnancy is introduced. The love between Tech, the kid who can do no right, and Preen, the corporate trainer who falls for failure and a pretty face, had hope but their romantic journey was not what was intriguing about this show. It was just a subplot that took over the main plot by Act II. Sure, bringing a child into this dystopian future would be horrendous, but focusing on the characters’ journeys in their new hell is what is captivating. Establishing the rules of the world are essential for a cohesive piece. The rules set forth by Moulton and De Voe are ever changing and the twists of power and who really is the experiment causes groans and moans. A typical hero wins story this is not. By the end, the experiment and her friends are forced in exile, or freedom depending on who's perspective you take, and the characters are suddenly left to the unknown where their demise is eminent. I can only imagine the sequel would be a futuristic version of "Survivor". When the book is lacking, you can only hope the score can save the day. Moulton's electronic score doesn't quite resonate as futuristic but rather that of 80s electronic. A "Tron" vibe, if you will. The sound is reminiscent of the Epcot attractions that also imagined the future. Act II introduces a score evocative of the Golden Age of Broadway, an extremely drastic departure to the earlier established sound. The inconsistency is quite unfortunate. Many of the numbers in the second half seem as if they were written for another musical and pigeonholed in. The finale, a very showy number about rain seems so lost in this play. Trimming of the script into a single act piece could be beneficial, but in reality, a lot more needs to be accomplished.
photo courtesy of Ari Fulton
Bringing the piece to life, a large ensemble of talent was brought together. Mykel Vaughn brings such heart and conviction to his role. As Tech, Vaughn exudes leading man qualities. His confidence as a performer is wonderful to watch. Debbie Williams as Preen has a challenging arc to tackle, but brings a lot of spunk to the part. She looks perfect for a future generation. Both Vaughn and Williams are fit and director Richard St. George used form-clenching costumes and the occasional lack of clothing to his advantage. As Abby the experiment, Alison Rose Munn has a powerhouse sound. When she gets her moment in "...and I remember", she brings down the house. R/evolution utilizes an ensemble of dancers to keep things interesting. Precision is key in this world. Being out of sync is almost illegal. This means the synchronicity of the ensemble needs to be perfect. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The stray flailing arm or miss step draws more attention then you could imagine.
From a production stand point, R/evolution is stellar. Simply stunning. The projection design by David Bengali and lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker is incredible for this level of production. The multi-media element adds to the world that Moulton and De Voe have imagined. Bengali and Chandrashaker’s work is pristine, saving what could have been a total flop. But when you strip away the fanciness of the production, Richard St. George’s direction encounters some problems. Canned music in a musical is always a bummer but the electronic songs allowed for it to work. But the songs that were plunked out on piano, that’s when the actors were lost and had to adjust and fall out of the moment if their tempo didn’t quite match. The movement the company offers is static and linear. It works. But when it strays from the robotic style before the memory rules of the musical allow it to, the vision becomes muddied. St. George does a great job at preventing his core actors to fall into the schmacting trap until they have no choice but to in Act II. The monochromatic set by Scott Dahl looked cool and moved quite well but the little bits of asymmetry were truly distracting in this established world. Ari Fulton’s futuristic costumes were perfect. Under Armor truly is the sign of the future! But when the characters entered life post corporation, there was nothing more upsetting then those raincoats. While they clearly were supposed to represent items of the past, there was something off about their aesthetic.
The futuristic science fiction musical is an incredibly tough genre to succeed. New York recently saw Barcode the Musical, a strikingly similar piece, that didn’t quite land. The world has had We Will Rock You, another coincidentally comparable musical, but that show has an incredible score to fall back on. Cheers to you Freddie and Queen. It's clear hard work and dedication has gone into bringing R/evolution to life. But in order for it find a life after, a clean sweep may be in order.