BWW Reviews: Our State, My Anthem
"I bring light to end the darkest night. So, let the scholars write: today the world was born anew."
As taken from the song "I Bring Light," one of the first achieved moments of individual triumph and beauty for the story's protagonist is captured through the powerful words of a character who has always understand the potential greatness of being "free." A young rebel by the name of Prometheus takes his ardent desire to liberate himself from the darkness which has descended upon his people by means of an oppressive and soul crushing State, and becomes the hero of this fantastic new musical that tackles an old yet thought provoking concept. Can it be possible for one person to change the world - to have it "born anew" - by showing how important the individual is in the midst of complete tyranny? Ayn Rand's Anthem is hereby taken and transformed into a production that emphasizes the influence of one young soul and his ambition to show that there really isn't any "I" in team after all; this, my friends, is The Anthem.
Directed by Rachel Klein (who also serves as the musical's choreographer and overall design person), this world premiere of JJJ Production's The Anthem is a high energy, rather quirky show that does nothing but please the audience from start to finish. Although based on a rather sensitive topic of basic human rights (what with the lack of individual freedom, capitalism and....sex??), the new perspective offered to such issues is given an actual, beautiful shape by the futuristic setting in which it occurs. With a book by Gary Morgenstein, music by Jonnie Rockwell and lyrics by Erik Ransom, this musical is sure to be something out of this world.
Yes, Rand's novella does take place in a world which denies the past and considers it nothing more than an empty crater of now useless but potentially dangerous information, but why does that dictate that the present world should be rather stark and uneventful, mourning over a world that was demolished long ago? Indeed this is not so. Why shouldn't there be a disco ball in the center of what looks like a magnificent dance floor, or people donned in the new silver style of the future fearing the omniscient Grid which tracks the movement and intentions of each person registered as a citizen of this fair new State? The world, as tracked by this power, is incredibly oppressed and lacking the knowledge that one would think the future would hold. Instead, people are unaware of their biological parents, live according to how the State mandates they should, and accept their position in life as towards the benefit of the "we," as the individual is lacking and therefore insignificant as a single unit.
Somehow, this doesn't seem too far off from what the world is coming to, but one thing that is wonderful about The Anthem (on a very long list) is that, regardless of Rand's original message to be found in her writings, this show does not carry a strong political message; it does not allow the desire for change to run rampant through the audience. For all the sadness, scheming and rebellion to be found in this show, the audience, after discovering who each character is and what he/she represents and desires, truly connects and stays a loyal supporter of that individual's cause to the very end. People, in the midst of a civilization which frowns upon the growth of the individual as anything good, begin to take on an image that is more profound than the silhouettes, the shells of human beings they were treated as before Prometheus comes and questions this mode of living. Characters, strong-minded and great possessors of humanity that no one knew them to be, are to be found in abundance within this musical; it is amazing how such people, regardless of their intentions, can bring a show to such a degree of life as is to be found in The Anthem. They shine as bright as the disco ball. The show is about humanity, and this really stands out.
What Klein has done with Rand's novella, upon first hearing of this borderline fun but more so malevolent new society, is nothing short of brilliant. She has chosen an unbelievable cast that consists of actors, singers, dancers, acrobats and gymnasts, assembling all of the above to create a show that is incredibly unique. From the futuristic headquarters of the State and Council, to the depths of the forests not covered by the Grid's far reaching mechanical eye, the amount of talent on that stage is a pure shock to anyone fortunate enough to be a part of the audience.
Prometheus, a character in need of a strong-willed, talented and handsome leading man, is played by the amazing Jason Gotay, who really can do no wrong portraying this great protagonist. He plays defiance so well, while able to turn on the romantics at any given time as a boy in love with his chosen mate, and then transitioning to the man whose rebelliousness and clear knowledge of his true purpose destines him to be the savior of his people. Gotay's complete understanding of his character and how to portray him can only be complemented by his beautiful voice - a voice which gives away the absolute joy experienced when finding the hidden tunnel when forced to sweep the debris in the hidden forest ("Off the Grid"), or the degree to which he is smitten by the woman who has shown him the joys of loving one not destined to accompany him through life ("Golden One"). He is able to tell such a story, and the show is undoubtedly that much more beautiful because of his character.
What would the leading man be without a fantastic cast to join him? Athena, Prometheus' love interest, is played by the spectacular Ashley Kate Adams, who also portrays that emotional transformation so well. Not only does she have a magnificent voice, it has the perfect amount of power and strength that corresponds so well with her role as Queen of the Forest; it also does not cease to impress when she lets down her guard a bit and falls for our young hero. Pandora (Jenna Leigh Green), who holds quite a secret in this musical, plays the role of First Citizen, and is perceived as the authoritative, straight-to-the-point woman who controls all relevant to State matters. There must have been some sort of strategy in place to keep her singing abilities hidden until later on in the musical; wow, can she belt a note. Her voice is unbelievable, and the fortitude she must possess towards the second act really causes her to transform and express every emotion she has ever held back through song; she did that without fault indeed.
Moving on to Hera (Remy Zaken), the woman destined by the State to spend a lifetime with Prometheus as his mate, is a schemer at heart. Her jealousy leads her to plot revenge against her "beloved," and she is another one with the voice to match the pain she suffers within. She is first perceived as this sweet, innocent and law-abiding character who is content with her present calling to be a librarian, but then belts out a song like "State Sanctioned Love," and you know that there is something much more devious and profound existent beneath the exterior of one who is seemingly so proper. Bravo! Last but not least is Randy Jones, an original member of "The Village People," and within this show portrays Tiberius, Second Citizen and teacher who wishes to be more influential than he already is; although he does not sing very often, he is a powerhouse of a character and does a wonderful job.
Credit must be given to the ensemble in this show for so many different reasons: not only do they play different minor characters in the show, they are also the individuals who dance, sing and perform the amazing acrobatic feats that make this show even that much more fantastical. Klein's choreography is spectacular, but add to that people hanging from pieces of thin material, climbing up and down, twirling themselves around and showing such amazing displays of upper body strength and flexibility, and you've got something wonderful. Watching them is truly mesmerizing, especially when some of them finish their spectacular show in the forest and revert back to members of the State, who are such amazing dancers as well! The ensemble is really quite a talented bunch of people, and praise must be given to how many different abilities each member has, and how well they fit into this show.
Kudos to those not in the show, but as much a part of it as those who are! Scenic design is by Robert Kovach, lighting design is by Kryssy Wright, costumes are co-designed by Kae Burke, sound design is by Sean Hagerty, props and projections are by Ellie Engstrom; Jane Pole and Nicole Kuker stage manage.
The Anthem, if you haven't already guessed, is worth seeing at least once, if not a few times. The talent is astounding, the music is modern and catchy, and the show overall, despite its themes, is actually pretty entertaining. There were a lot of liberties taken with the dialogue to create that mix of futuristic propriety with modern day vernacular; it worked quite well, even making the show funny at certain points. This show is really quite good, and deserves all positive reviews it receives.
And hey, Daphne Rubin-Vega voiced Syrius, the rather snarky Talking Computer at this particular performance. That's pretty cool.
The Anthem opened on May 29, 2014 at Culture Project's Lynn Redgrave Theater. Performances are Thursdays through Tuesdays, with shows on Thursday-Saturday at 8:00 and those on Monday and Tuesday at 7:00. Matinees are on Saturday and Sunday at 3:00.
The theater is located at 45 Bleecker Street, right off the 6 train or the D/F/M/B to Broadway-Lafayette. Tickets may be purchased by visiting the musical's official website, http://www.theanthemmusical.com/; prices range from $33 to $99. The Anthem runs approximately two hours with a brief intermission.
Enjoy the show!
Photo Credit: Michael Blase