BWW Review: Erin Markey's A RIDE ON THE IRISH CREAM Takes a Victory Lap with Album Release at Joe's Pub
Like the Criminologist in ROCKY HORROR, Erin Markey is here to take you on a strange journey.
Well, technically, said journey has been going on since 2013. And, after years of working on her original musical, A RIDE ON THE IRISH CREAM, this was more of a victory lap for Markey, in the form of an album release celebration at Joe's Pub. Don't worry, though. It's still plenty strange.
In A RIDE ON THE IRISH CREAM, Markey plays Reagan, a girl who falls for Irish Cream (who is both her family's boat and a horse) performed by Becca Blackwell wearing rubber horse hooves and a mischievous grin. So you see what we're working with here. There's enough quirk here to make Napoleon Dynamite look like Archie Andrews.
In fact, since the concert performance was significantly abridged, there was little dialogue, aside from several spoken-word interludes. And in a show that already seems a little mystifying, trying to find the plot was a bit like hunting down the Holy Grail.
But since the show was billed as an hour-long concert of the show's music, the arc of the musical is far less important than the songs and the performances. On both counts, Markey---the show's writer-creator and co-composer---and her collaborators more than followed through.
Opening in complete darkness, they wasted no time in diving into the prologue, harmonizing with an accelerating intensity before Markey launched into a grand, Rilo Kiley-esque indie rock jam (also called "Prologue").
On opposite sides of the stage were Emily Bate, Markey's co-composer and musical director, on guitar, and Chenda Cope on bass. They were also joined by Ian Axness, who played piano, and Mike Marcinowski on drums.
Aptly beginning with "Irish Cream," Blackwell popped in and out of the action as the show's title character, occasionally turning on their heel and abruptly walking offstage without so much as a word.
In their songs, Markey and her team blended rock, country and pop into frenetic modern-day folk songs, lending the musical a mythical air. A RIDE ON THE IRISH CREAM has more than a few bops, at some points leading to enough audience toe-tapping to make your chair vibrate.
Lyrically, they mined humor out of intentionally literal and echoic wording. Controlled and Fiona Apple cool in "Scotch," after singing, "I lied and said I liked scotch," she immediately deadpanned, "I never tried scotch."
And in a hilarious bit in "Leotard," Markey's character, Reagan, recalls quitting tap after moving from Michigan to South Carolina. Impersonating her character's mother on the phone, she begins, "Oh, hello, Tap? This is Mrs. Mom, I'm calling from my house."
As a group, they could not have seemed more comfortable, both in the space and in their performances. There's confidence in the material, and then there's having the music living in your skin. This is definitely a case of the latter, particularly in Bate's exceptional performance of "Cloud Song" a cappella.
Every note, every trill and every time she trailed off felt authentic and beautiful, so much so that, when it was over, sniffling could be heard in the audience.
But each of the supporting players had a moment to shine, from Cope's anthemic "Waterfall" to Blackwell's sweetly guileless "Granddad."
While the rest of the group stayed in show mode throughout, Markey broke character a few times, mostly to acknowledge the stripped-down nature of the show. At one point, Markey pointed out the moment where they'd usually "theatrically eat chips in lavaliers," joking, "but Joe's Pub doesn't have the technology for chips."
And, out of breath after some wild choreography during "Parade," she admitted, "I thought that wasn't going to be hard because we weren't doing it full out. But it turns out, everything is hard always."
Based on the crowd's easy laughter, it seemed as if much of the crowd had seen the stage show and knew what to expect. To be clear, the show was certainly enjoyable enough without having A RIDE ON THE IRISH CREAM in all its glory. But it very much had an insider feel, giving fans a treat during the encore with "Do You Think I'm Pretty?," a number cut during the development process when Markey "didn't know the mood board of our music yet."
But if the point of the album release party was to tease the crowd with music so simultaneously idiosyncratic and earworm-y that they'd leave wanting to listen again and again, mission accomplished. At the very least, I know I did.
Troy Frisby is an entertainment writer and digital news producer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @troyfrisby.