Americana In Concert at Theatre Royal Stratford East
Please note: Americana In Concert is an ‘In Concert’ performance not a completed work. The full production will be performed later in the year. They have handouts available for you to give your opinion on the work in exchange for a chance to win tickets to the staged finish product. With this in mind, it has allowed for input towards some modifications and what follows are my thoughts and opinion as a dramaturge and director.
Americana: In Concert is much too long. It runs at 2 hours and 45 minutes and in all honesty I felt that I had been taken hostage. It is commendable that Gez Mez and Conway McDermott were able to create a full length musical and what they had done was polished but what they had they then repeated, some scenes ran on and the songs list should be cut in half.
The issue is that there were too many insignificant stories and songs which didn’t move the story forward. The best example of this that I can give is the homophobic teacher. Instead of giving her one hate speech, which is necessary, she had 3 hate speeches and 2 songs as well.
Another issue sadly was that it was impossible to understand the majority of the lyrics sung, which, coupled with the length, does not help with keeping someone engaged. Audience comprehension depends on being able to hear the lyrics. Some of the lyrics that I did hear were gems, like, “Marilyn Manson, he’s so f*cking handsome“, which makes me think that there’s a good chance the ones I could not hear we’re also fun. But, there is a line saying, “How’s that for a f*cking speech“, and my thoughts were ‘but did I miss the speech? Was it the song they just sang? I thought it was another teen angst song, I couldn’t hear the lyrics’.
The ending, I sadly didn’t understand as well, for the same reason. It may be a matter of more rehearsals with microphones, or better enunciation. According to someone else watching the show, she was unsure if a dramatic plot shift had occurred or not 4 minutes before the end. If this is accurate, it is a great idea to delve into and explore further.
There were some sassy and humourous lines, for example, “I don’t care if you’re a homo or a no mo“. There was a beautiful line which needs to be noted about not joining in on homophobic slandering due to one’s personal fear of being outed: “When they all nasty about…, don’t join in. Don’t be the thing you’re most scared of“. This was a wonderful sentiment and very well expressed.
There is a strange older man though, in a black cowboy hat and black leather fringe jacket, who randomly appears. He is creepy as we have no idea who he is and why he is there. It was one of the unanswered questions with which I left the show.
On the plus side, there is something about watching two men share a romantic kiss which makes me happy. I got to see two of these great kisses.
There were parts of the show that were absolutely lovely. The opening song had a catchy chorus. Laurence Schuman said ‘confederate fag’ which was the first of many times he made me laugh; he had a strong voice and was absolutely hilarious! Speaking of strong voices, when Sienna Sebek belts, what comes out is an outstanding voice! She should not hold it back throughout the other songs.
There were candles on the floor within jars, grouped around each side of each speaker at the edge of the stage, and it was absolutely lovely. It created an intimate and raw surrounding and there was a beautiful tableau near the end, where two lads in black are crouched in front and behind them you have three women in bright colours. This jolt of yellow (shirt), red (jacket) and green (hair) was surprising and visually stunning.
Americana: In Concert has great possibility. I hope they continue to build on it and workshop it. New musicals take years to come together. They are well on their way.
Review by Julie Bergevin
Americana in Concert
Thursday 31st March – Saturday 2nd April 2016
Premiere of the groundbreaking new musical by young up and coming theatre makers Hungry Bitches productions