Saturday, October 22, 2005

Automatic Superstar

Last night was the opening night of Automatic Superstar, a rock opera about music downloading that I kind of lucked into. Zorikh/Ervald, my former roommate and another SCA member, was cast as a security guard and he got first myself and Dwayne/Sir Diablu to join him. We have basic spear carrier roles, mostly standing around looking intimidating and clearing a path through the audience for the rock star-hero.

This show rocks! The music is awesome and the cast is one of the most talented I’ve worked with ever (and in various walk on and background rolls I’ve worked with a few greats). While all the conventions of rock opera and rock musicals are there—lonely, alienated hero, unrequited love, high melodrama, evil record executives, etc—the show is also a political statement on the social revolution of music downloading. The premise of the show is the theory that ideas (in this case music) cannot be bought and sold, that they belong to everybody, and that downloading music will free artists from the shackles put on them by the record companies. Now, those who know me or have taken my class know the problems I have with downloading, and that I generally believe in copyright as a legal principle, but this show shows how downloading can be a good thing by giving artists the ability to market themselves instead of indebting themselves to record companies, which, let’s face it, are among the most vile, exploitative, venal businesses out there. This, of course, makes them easy targets, and the play goes after them hammer and tongs. The interactive show moves all over the nightclub. It is, of course, extremely Brechtian in its approach while being very accessible and entertaining (and we should not forget old Dale Whalberg’s insistence that Rock Opera comes closer to Artuad’s theatre of Cruelty then anything else—I don’t completely agree with Dale on this, but he certainly hadn’t seen De Laguarda when he said it). The show has been bouncing around the New York theater scene for about a year and a half, in workshop productions and partial stagings, but last nights was full blown. There was video, great lights, (some sound problems), a lot of extras, three incredibly hot and talented dancers, and an awesome aerialist. It’s a real trip.

This show is part of what can now be viewed as a long tradition of rock and roll theater. There are obvious parallels to other rock and roll stories and other rock operas. Some of the music, especially duets between Matic and his agent Stanton (who has a rock tenor voice that would make Meatloaf jealous) has echoes of Jesus Christ Superstar. I mean it: Stanton has moments that are as sharp and dramatic as Jesus scourging the money changers out of the temple (“My temple should be/a house of prayer!”) or Judas’ screams. The rock icon as Christ figure motif is also not unlike Tommy, and Matic’s loyal fans who insist he be the rock star they fantasize about is classic Who. Not to mention that Frankie, who plays the record company owner Rod Blocker, can out-Tina Tina Turner herself! In look, feel and some of the sound it is a lot like Ziggy Stardust. The mesmerizing rock star as pied piper and the inhumanity of the record companies is much like Harlan Elison’s novel Spiderkiss. The millennial undertones are a lot like the post-apocalyptic fantasy created in Sam Sheppard’s The Tooth of Crime. And, of course, the Faustian bargain Matic makes to become a rock star is straight out of that greatest of rock musicals, the Phantom of the Paradise (so, for that matter, is the mask), and writer/composer/director and all around crazy man Bob Weidman would make an excellent Swan (though, surprisingly, he’s never seen it).

I’ve always appreciated the cultural revolution aspect of downloading, how it removes greedy corporate middlemen from the distribution process. Problems with downloading can be addressed later. This show is a lot of fun to be in and a lot of fun to watch (which, face it, is what I spend most of my stage time doing). Everybody should check it out. It’s currently playing Friday Nights, 8 o’clock, at Show on West 41 between 6th and Broadway (that’s right! I am in a show that’s right off Times Square! It’s practically Broadway!)

Tickets can be had through http://www.automaticsuperstar.com/.
A great write up on the show can be found at http://www.identitytheory.com/audio/crystal_automatic.php
Music can be downloaded at http://www.automaticsuperstar.xbuild.com/.

Those are just a few sites. Google it and you’ll find a lot more, including reviews of earlier productions. I mean it, this show totally rocks! You must see it!

1 Comments:

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