BWW Reviews: THE 27 CLUB Rocks the Warehouse at Capital Fringe
Admittedly, I approached The 27 Club with some trepidation. Musicals are always a tough thing in Fringe Festivals because there are so many parts that need to be in place for them to work really well. Instances of poor casting - particularly with non-singers - are something I've encountered in numerous past Fringe productions, unfortunately. If it's not that, it's a situation of an artist trying to do it all - book, music, lyrics, and direction - and succeeding at only or (or if we're lucky, two) components. In the case of DC actress Carolyn Agan - making her writing, directing, and producing debut - she manages to take a nebulous concept, a whole lot of music, and a talented cast and make it all work to, well, say something, and do it well at that. That's pretty darn good for your first time out, particularly given the constraints of a festival setting. Music Director Jake Null is another key ingredient for success. He brings out the best of the singers and instrumentalists.
The 27 Club looks at the shared experience of several rock musicians who died at age 27 from various causes - most the kind we don't always want to talk about. From Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, and Amy Winehouse, to Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain, they all had considerable ambition, talent, and the makings of a great future. An examination of their upbringing and the experiences that encountered as they rose to the top and at the pinnacle of their short careers brings up some common themes about humanity, artistry, and the dark and lightness in the world.
Rather than having each actor in the cast (Kurt Boehm, Ian Anthony Coleman, Tina Ghandchilar, Jade Jones, Alex Piper, and Paige Taylor) take on one of the fallen rock stars, Agan wisely avoids a bio-feature/music revue situation and instead uses each of her talented cast members to depict one aspect or one moment of the careers/lives on display. This is a largely useful approach because it stresses the commonality and timelessness of their experience and perhaps, allows us to see a little bit of ourselves in certain aspects of those depicted. Backed by a talented band - Jaime Ibacache, Jason Wilson, Manny Archiniega - they share some of the songs that made each notable famous and delve into their backstories, aided by projections (Dan Deiter) depicting the real-life rockers.
The most developed dramatic moments come in the sequences following Amy Winehouse because they delve the deepest into her human core. We see 12-year-old Amy (Ian Anthony Coleman), with all the hope in the world ready to make a splash someday on London's West End and later see her crash and burn at a concert (Tina Ghandchilar) and see her dad for the last time (Paige Taylor). This arc is among the most affecting because of the observable transitions.
Vocally, sparks fly when Jade Jones takes on "Piece of My Heart," with pretty much reckless abandon and conveying rich emotion, still without losing control of her supple voice. Seriously, where has this girl been? She needs to be seen in more of the professional musical theatre productions because she has "IT" in spades. It was the highlight moment of the production.
Other strong vocal moments come in the form of "Paint it Black." Though Ghandchilar and Jones' voices are vastly different from one another, the combination of the two worked well for this song. I appreciated that it wasn't a case of "musical theatre actresses try to sing rock." It felt real and authentic. With Kurt Boehm, the strongest male cast menber, I likewise found myself drawn into not only his strong voice, but his connection to the lyrics in every one of his solo moments. Other solid moments of lyrical interpretation came from Tina Ghandchilar, with her soulful and anthem-like rendition of "Mercedes Benz" made famous by Joplin.
While there's room for some judicious cutting in the middle section, it can get a bit preachy and schmaltzy near the end, and some of the choreography felt overly busy and unnecessary, this musical shows promise. The rock concert-like atmosphere achieved at the Warehouse is not just because the music featured in the production likely resonates with the artists and the audience. The success has to do with the talent and passion of all involved in the production. I readily admit that while I may know the most obscure musical theatre songs known to mankind, my knowledge of much of this kind of music is limited. Even I was drawn into the words, music, and stories because at the end of the day, it's about the human experience. That's pretty powerful stuff.
Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission.
The 27 Club is being staged as part of the 2014 Capital Fringe Festival at the Warehouse - 645 New York Avenue, NW in Washington, DC. For further details, ticket information, and upcoming performance times, consult the show page on the Fringe website.
Graphic: Courtesy of Capital Fringe webpage.