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American Zombie - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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November 11th, 2009


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09:13 pm - American Zombie
In the last couple weeks, I've been to a lot of unconventional theatre.

Thanks to cofax7, I got to see American Idiot at Berkeley Rep for free the night before Halloween ($0), and I loved it so much I saw it again last night ($26). Now, I fully admit that my opinion about this show is heavily biased since I am a huge Green Day fan and think American Idiot is a fantastic album. But after a few minutes of the show, I thought, "I WANT TO SEE THIS A MILLION TIMES." The show follows the general narrative of the album but adds two characters, Will and Tunny, who serve as foils to the tale of Johnny, the Jesus of Suburbia. While Johnny goes off to the city and becomes a druggie, Will stays home with his pregnant girlfriend and Tunny goes off to war. I didn't want to know much about the story going in, but I actually had a greater appreciation for the storytelling, such as it is, the second time around since I found that I'd misinterpreted and missed a lot the first time. There's very little dialogue, and the story is told through the songs and staging.

Never having seen any of the classic rock operas, I was amazed at how well this one worked. It translated into a musical as if that's what it was meant to be from the start. I loved hearing the songs as sung by different characters, which imbued the lines with new meaning. I loved hearing Green Day sung by women. I loved hearing various harmonies and counterpoints being brought to the fore by a large ensemble. I loved that members of the ensemble got big solo moments. It brought the music to life in ways I had never imagined. The show includes all of American Idiot as well as songs from 21st Century Breakdown and a couple B-sides. The staging is generally very effective, interesting, and evocative. Standouts include "Give Me Novacaine," which is pretty brilliantly done in the way it highlights how all three leads are escaping from their lives (pot, sex, and war), and "Extraordinary Girl," which is a dream sequence that involves two actors flying around on wires. (It should go without saying that "Jesus of Suburbia" and "Homecoming" are especially well done and interesting.) The choreography, on the other hand, is often kind of silly and nonsensical, consisting of convulsions and randomly throwing your hands around, like some sort of punk rock interpretive dance. But it's like a party on stage! There is a live band along with a cute redhead in glasses playing piano and accordion and conducting when her hands are free. She jumps up and down and sings along and it's really cute.

The lead actor was actually my least favorite because I thought he went a little too nasal and overdid the "disaffected youth" bit at times, but we got an understudy the second time around, and he wasn't as strong a singer or actor and he didn't have the same energy, which made me appreciate what the regular lead brought to the show. I still preferred Will, who wore a Scott Pilgrim shirt, and Tunny, who looked like Matt Saracen and was very expressive with his gestures. They had better voices, too. St. Jimmy was awesome. The women all had very powerful voices. There was a lot of talent onstage: the three male leads all played guitar for some songs. And the show recently added an encore song in which everyone plays guitar—although some of them just learned—and sings "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," which is kind of cheesy but still awesome.

Berkeley Rep held little post-show parties after each performance, so I got to tell the pianist/conductor I thought she was just as much a part of the show as the actors. And last night, I got to tell Tunney and Will they were great. And I followed St. Jimmy down into the BART station. The understudy Johnny also came down and was swarmed by fangirls wanting his autograph. Also, it just so happened my friend Debbie was at the performance last night, so we saw each other for the first time since the last TimeCube gathering we both attended.

American Idiot was awesome, and it's headed to Broadway, so if you get a chance to see it, I highly recommend it.

On Halloween, I saw Zombie! A New Musical at the EXIT Theatre ($22). The director's note was really super-serious and freaked me out. It was all, "I was inspired by the death of my youngest brother, and how the disease ate away at him and I still loved him and couldn't let it go, and that is the allegory of zombies, and everyone in this play makes selfish decisions, and I've never seen a zombie musical that could be funny and still tell a story UNTIL MY BRILLIANT PRODUCTION CAME ALONG." So I was expecting something really heavy. Thankfully, it was still funny. Sitting in the front row was the best idea because there were zombies on the floor groaning and grabbing at your feet the whole show. They also doubled as stagehands, handing the actors microphones or crawling up to change the set. Sometimes they just writhed in agony. Also, there was a genderswapped Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne. And the reporter character flashed a boob during one song at the line "Like a Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction." I didn't hear the rest of the analogy because I was distracted.

There were some entertaining technical malfunctions. The music was recorded, not live, and it started skipping or something during one song. At first the character just started saying, "Cut the music, cut the music," in-character. When that didn't work, the general character marched in and told us there was a technical issue, would we all please just stay in our seats. Then the singer said, "I'll just take this one a cappella." And sang about workin' the motherfuckin' graveyard. It was pretty great, and one guy assumed it was part of the show. Later, during Ozzy's song, she was all, "1, 2, 3!" And the music didn't kick in, so she kept going, "4, 5, all right there we go." It was amusing.

It was a heavy metal musical, and the songs were pretty catchy, especially the title track. As far as the story, it's your typical boy-likes-girl, boy-and-girl-have-sex-on-roof-of-creepy-warehouse-conveniently-located-next-to-a-graveyard, girl-falls-off-roof-of-creepy-warehouse-conveniently-located-next-to-a-graveyard-and-dies, boy-brings-girl-back-to-life-with-government-experiment-zombie-gas-and-accidentally-starts-zombie-apocalypse story. You know, that old tale. My favorite non-zombie-related line belongs to the girl's psychotherapist father, who says, "Violet, it's like you're having a party...and you forgot to invite the truth."

Zombie! was awesome, and you will probably never get a chance to see it, so sucks for you.

This past weekend, I saw Zombie Town, also at the EXIT Theatre ($16). In fact, throughout October, the two shows were playing right across from each other, which led to some confusion. Zombie Town is a documentary play, the conceit being that a theatre group called the Catharsis Collective traveled to Harwood, Texas, and interviewed the survivors of a zombie outbreak in order to tell the story in their own words. It's sort of like The Laramie Project with zombies. Five actors played all the characters, and all five were fantastic. The most impressive was the one woman, who played several distinct characters throughout the show, sometimes switching characters right there onstage. The show was hilarious because it turns out that talking about a zombie attack without actually being shown any zombies can be really, really funny. One of the characters, in describing what the first zombie looked like, described it something like this: "You know how a turkey after Thanksgiving looks with all the meat picked off and it's just the bone with little bits of meat hanging off? Puke on that. And then bury it. And then dig it up and puke on it again and bury it again." After a while, it strayed from simply being testimonials from townspeople and started walking the line between retelling and reenactment, as we watched three characters take refuge in an abandoned cabin.

To my surprise, the show ended up being less a zombie show and more a satire of the healing power of the theatre. One of the members of the Catharsis Collective gave a lot of pretentious monologues about the purpose of the show and what it will do for the community. And then the show broke, like, the fifth wall by having the in-show actor playing a zombie in a reenactment of past events become a real zombie and set off the zombie murders of the entire Catharsis Collective onstage. It was bloody madness. No, really, there was a lot of blood.

Zombie Town was even more awesome than Zombie!, and you will probably never get a chance to see it, so sucks for you.
Current Mood: sleepysleepy
Current Music: Foo Fighters - Alone + Easy Target

(13 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:mcfeste
Date:November 12th, 2009 05:34 am (UTC)
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So would you recommend I spend some time with the AI album before Saturday? I haven't actually listened to the whole thing, so I imagine I should at least be familiar with it.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:November 12th, 2009 05:38 am (UTC)
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Yes! I think it's better appreciated if you know the music, but that's because I love the music already. For this, though, it helped because I knew most of the words already, and so it was a fun experience to hear those words interpreted onstage. Obviously, you can still enjoy it if you're hearing all the songs for the first time, though; it wouldn't be a very good musical otherwise. (On the other hand, knowing the songs can be a bit distracting because you spend time waiting for the song you know comes after another one or hearing the first strains of an intro but wondering why the song isn't starting and stuff like that.)

In conclusion: do what you want!
[User Picture]
From:mcfeste
Date:November 12th, 2009 05:46 am (UTC)
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No, you're right, I'm going to track down my CD and put it in my car so I get plenty of exposure to it before Saturday. Especially since you said the plot is driven mostly by the songs themselves, so I want to make sure I understand all the lyrics. Three days isn't enough time to know the album so cold that I'll be distracted by over-familiarity, I don't think.
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From:scifantasy
Date:November 12th, 2009 06:37 am (UTC)
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I got to see American Idiot at Berkeley Rep for free the night before Halloween

Color me jealous. I was quite put out when I realized that the Berkeley Rep run of American Idiot wouldn't start until I was back here in NYC.
(Deleted comment)
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From:stephl
Date:November 12th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
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Keeping with the zombie theme, I just got Breathers from the library yesterday. Haven't started it yet, but it looks pretty good. In a zombie way.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:November 12th, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
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Let me know how it is. I've seen it, and it did seem amusing.
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From:beeker121
Date:November 12th, 2009 09:17 pm (UTC)
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The cute readhead who played piano - I've worked with her on a show at TW. She is just as awesome as she appears onstage.

(I rarely get to do hey I know that person and couldn't resist.)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:November 12th, 2009 10:42 pm (UTC)
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Oh, cool!
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From:bigboobedcanuck
Date:November 12th, 2009 11:06 pm (UTC)
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It's neat to hear about American Idiot from someone who isn't also a Spring Awakening fan! (It's the same creative team and some cast.) I will definitely be seeing it when it transfers to Broadway.

I really love John Gallagher Jr. (the lead), although he definitely has a nasal voice, I'll give you that. :) Just in case you're interested, here he is singing Bitch of Living from Spring Awakening. You should recognize Brian Clark Johnson (the bigger guy) as well, as he's in AI.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:November 12th, 2009 11:23 pm (UTC)
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I've heard Spring Awakening is great, but I've never seen it. Thanks for that clip! John Gallagher Jr. looks and sounds so different there! How weird. And, yeah, that's the bigger guy all right.
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From:bigboobedcanuck
Date:November 12th, 2009 11:39 pm (UTC)
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It really is a great show. I saw it for the first time a year ago (with mcfeste) and we were immediately obsessed.

I also enjoy this performance from The View (the guy to the left of John is Gerard Canonico, who was in AI as well) and the Tony performance is a good (albeit censored) overview. :)

I could talk SA all day, so I'll stop now!
[User Picture]
From:chrryblssmninja
Date:November 13th, 2009 05:54 am (UTC)
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yay for awesome theater!

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