Monday, August 6, 2012

Richmond Times-Dispatch feature on "Joe Jackson's Night and Day"

Celia Wren, one of my favorite theatre writers in the world, has written a wonderful piece about Joe Jackson's Night and Day that was featured in Sunday's Richmond Times-Dispatch. I love that Celia does a far better job describing the show's aesthetic than my rambling attempts ever do. Check it out!

World premiere concert-musical for Richmond Triangle Players

Never underestimate the power of a hand-me-down: That's a lesson you could draw from the latest exploit by local thespian Andrew Hamm.

In 1995, when Hamm was an undergraduate at Virginia Commonwealth University, he received a used turntable and a slew of old albums from his brother, Philip. As a more or less direct result of that acquisition, Andrew Hamm conceived, and is now directing and performing in, a world premiere concert-musical: "Joe Jackson's Night and Day," running at Richmond Triangle Players Wednesday through Aug. 18.

Those cast-off records included "Night and Day" and several other albums by Joe Jackson, the rock/pop musician known for hit songs "Is She Really Going Out with Him?" and "Steppin' Out."

"I instantly fell in love with his music," Hamm remembers, remarking on Jackson's flair for conjuring up people and anecdotes in song. "He had a great ability to tell character stories that were snarky and affectionate at the same time."

In subsequent years, Hamm made an effort to catch Jackson on tour and was impressed by the theatricality
of the rocker's concerts. A show might feature instrumentalists in costume, and Jackson might make an entrance with a conspicuous prop, such as a suitcase.

An enthusiast of theater and music, Hamm was naturally inclined to appreciate such rock-drama hybrids.

He grew up in New Jersey and Virginia and earned a bachelor's degree in theater performance from VCU in 1996. A multi-instrumentalist, he spent time after college in New York, where he wrote music for an album he titled "Strange Education."

In 2000, Jackson released "Night and Day II," a follow-up to 1982's "Night and Day." After catching the "Night and Day II" tour in New York, Hamm found himself brainstorming staging techniques that might further underscore the drama in Jackson's music.

When Hamm returned to VCU for a master's degree in theater pedagogy — he received his degree in 2005 — he thought about creating a concert-musical version of the two "Night and Day" albums as his dissertation project. He contacted Jackson's manager, Michael Maska, who supported the idea, even helping Hamm secure permissions.

Built around an onstage band, Hamm's production wasn't a play per se. Rather, he drew out, expanded and interlinked narrative elements in Jackson's albums, turning the songs into musical scenes and sketches featuring recurring characters.

A principal storyline, concerning a New York-based songwriter striving to capture the city's energy in a catchy tune, added unity.

A workshop version of the show, with a volunteer cast, received two performances at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Hamm went on to other theater work: He has acted and directed on local stages and he served for a time as Richmond Shakespeare's associate artistic director. But he couldn't put the Jackson project behind him and eventually started exploring a professional production.

Maska again gave his endorsement. "It's a win situation for everyone," the manager said, pointing out that Hamm's show could introduce Jackson's music to new audiences.

Besides, he said, "Joe is very supportive of the arts overall. He likes musicals. He likes theater." (Indeed, Maska added, Jackson is working on a musical about the life of "Dracula" author Bram Stoker).

When Hamm approached Richmond Triangle Players with the "Night and Day" idea, the company's artistic director, John Knapp, was interested.

"It felt like a good fit, in size and in scope," Knapp said in an email, pointing out that RTP has experience nurturing new work, having hosted a workshop production of Julie Fulcher-Davis' musical "Company of Angels" in 2010.

Hamm, who performed in the play-with-music "This Beautiful City" at RTP last year, believed "Joe Jackson's Night and Day" has found the right home: RTP's mission focuses on works relevant to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, and in the new concert-musical, "as with a lot of Joe's work, there (are) a lot of gender issues and identity issues."

Hamm will be playing keyboards in the six-piece band that's central to "Joe Jackson's Night and Day."

And on the bass will be his brother, Philip, who accidentally sowed the seeds for the concert-musical all those years ago.

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