Friday, August 10, 2012

John Porter: " 'Joe Jackson's Night and Day' Rocks Richmond Triangle Players"

From John Porter's Blog:

Joe Jackson's Night and Day Rocks Richmond Triangle Players

“One of the things I love best about Country Music,” a young Ray Charles answered a reporter, “is the stories the music tells.” Joe Jackson’s Night and Day, a world premiere now running at Richmond Triangle Players has nothing to do with country music, but it tells some of the most compelling stories and the appreciative audience on opening night hung on nearly every musical phrase and savored the experience for every second of the production.

Joe Jackson’s Night and Day is the brainchild of Andrew Hamm, a dedicated musician as well as actor, writer, and director. Hamm has done much more than string together some of Jackson’s music; he has crafted them in such a way as to tell the story of New York through the eyes of several different people. These are songs of innocence and songs of experience to steal titles from William Blake. And like the visionary that Blake was, Jackson has a way of looking at the darker side of his world and transcending it to the heavens.

Hamm not only crafted the show but serves as the musical director, a character within the play, and co-director with Stacie Rearden Hall. That’s one dedicated obsessive fan. Apparently the show has been percolating in his fertile imagination for a number of years and he finally has it ready to share with the world.

I think the play is a solid work-in-progress that is almost ready to be released with perhaps a few adjustments. Let’s consider the pros of the production first.

The music is wonderful; building on two of Jackson’s best albums – Night and Day and Night and Day II. The first album lived in my cassette deck for a long time, until the tape stretched too thin and snapped. This of course was in the days before compact discs. It has since been replaced. Hamm has chosen several songs that set the mood beautifully and his cast performs admirably.

Which brings us to the second pro; the cast and band. The singers include the aforementioned Hamm as well as Augustin J. Correro, Kedron Dunn, Rebecca Anne Muhleman, Anne Carr Regan, and Liz Blake White. Each has more than one moment to shine and they make the most of it. Real standouts for me include “Stranger Than You” featuring Hamm, Correro, and Muhleman; “Chinatown” featuring Dunn, the duet of Correro and White on “Real Men”; “Cancer” again featuring Dunn, and the poignant duet between Hamm and Muhleman on “Breaking Us In Two” could make a statue tear up. I do wish that Regan had been able to solo more, although her take on “Another World” was jubilant and over the top fun. Even a member of the audience got pulled into that number.

The band featured a number of very good musicians including Jake Allard on percussion – mainly congas. He was joined by Adam Young on drums with Philip Hamm on bass to complete the rhythm section. They were joined by Michael Knowles on cello and Seamus Guy on violin. I was surprised by the string section as they added so much especially considering that live strings are often replaced by synthesized ones. The one issue I had with the band was the increased volume in an intimate space. The drums especially were overpowering and often took focus away from the singers.

I was also a little fuzzy on Hamm’s initial concept. At the beginning we see Hamm, as Jackson – or at least someone very much like Jackson – working out the song “Stepping Out.” Once he is seated at his keyboard, the other musicians enter and are mostly in the back, except for the strings. As Hamm rarely makes any eye contact with the musicians except to count time or to end a song, I’m not sure if the musicians are meant to be in the mind of Jackson as he’s imagining the music or something else. We see the creation of the music, but not what created the image.

The set is a representation of a New York street complete with homeless people and piles of stuff. The set is designed by T. Ross Aitken and it makes the most of the small surroundings. Kay Renee designed the costumes which are especially good on Regan’s “Another World” and anything featuring Dunn. The lights by David White were mostly good, although I could do without the strobe effects. I also like Deanna Danger’s choreography on “Dear Mom.” I’m not sure if Hamm or co-director Hall did the other choreography, but that is one area that needs to be beefed up a little more. The stage pictures are nice, but sometimes the movement leaves a little to be desired.

Joe Jackson’s Night and Day will have a limited run as it gears up for a Producer’s Showcase in New York and the work is a great way to spend a summer’s night.

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