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Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of Dave Malloy's OCTET at Signature Theatre?


The Signature Theatre production of Octet, a world premiere chamber choir musical by three-time Tony Award nominee Dave Malloy (Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812)and directed by Annie Tippe (Ghost Quartet), opened last night, May 19, in The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues). Octet will now play through June 23, 2019.

Octet is the first production in Malloy's Signature Residency, which will include three productions over the course of five years.

Featuring a score for an a cappella chamber choir and an original libretto inspired by internet comment boards, scientific debates, religious texts, and Sufi poetry, Octet explores addiction and nihilism within the messy context of 21st century technology. It is the first musical Signature has produced since its founding in 1991.

The cast of Octet includes Adam Bashian (The Phantom of the Opera) as Jim, Kim Blanck (Alice by Heart) as Karly, Starr Busby (Off-Broadway debut) as Paula, Alex Gibson (SpongeBob SquarePants the Musical) as Peter, Justin Gregory Lopez("Jesus Christ Superstar Live") as Toby, J.D. Mollison (X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. the Nation) as Marvin, Margo Seibert (In Transit) as Jessica, and Kuhoo Verma (The Big Sick) as Velma. The cast also includes Jonathan Christopher and Nicole Weiss.

Let's see what the critics are saying...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Most important, though, Mr. Malloy's score makes fractured thought audible (Or Matias is the musical director). What's captured in these voices is how we feel - seduced, exhilarated, lost and dirty - every time we turn on our computers or smartphones and fall into a time-devouring wormhole.

The varieties of this experience - recreational, informational, social, sexual, political - often blur the lines between hedonism and masochism. The forms of such pursuits are parsed and absorbed as the characters - bristling with individuality and universality - take turns describing their particular addictions.

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: Octet ultimately doesn't live up to its considerable artistic ambitions, but the show once again reveals its writer-composer to be one of the most creatively audacious talents working in musical theater today. It makes one eager to see what his restless mind comes up with next, assuming that he, unlike his characters, has enough self-control to unplug once in a while.

David Cote, The Observer: Not only is Octet one of the most thought-provoking and soul-stirring musicals I've seen in ages, it has an ingeniously woven, harmonically lush score that you'll want to revisit. Malloy's melding of indie-rock, punk, electronica and a sort of medieval plainsong is ridiculously catchy (and his deft lyrics quite witty). He uses the voice for percussive and drone effects as much as for traditional harmonies; one of his inspirations was composer Caroline Shaw and her group Roomful of Teeth. That's not the only influence. In a program insert Malloy says he borrowed from dozens of movies, books, podcasts, and games, not to mention Tarot, since every character is named after a card. In the end, as our motley pilgrims settle down for their closing tea ceremony, their cups laced with a "group psychedelic," you're suffused with a sense of liberation and respect for the roiling, primal unconscious that needs no Wi-Fi. All of Malloy's messy inclusiveness, his aggressive hoarding of data, attitude, allusions, science and's very Internet, right? But instead of eyesore and brain-fog, my time with Octet made me feel more alive, more connected: Forget the iPhone; pass the Iowaska.

Sara Holdren, Vulture: Octet is that rare and thrilling thing: a new musical that really does feel new.Formally, it's both unique and invigorating - and it's rigorous and straightforward enough in its structure for its ideas to spiral into rich, dense fractals. In the face of a virtual world where "there's no coming back / No rehabilitation / No nuance / Just noise," it takes a bravely unequivocal yet generous stand. It sings of darkness, blindness, and fear, but it sings also of complexity, connection, redemption, and hope.

Thom Geier, The Wrap: Still, "Octet" is a thoughtful and thought-provoking exercise, directed with theatrical flourish by Annie Tippe and performed with consummate craft and musicianship by the eight-member cast. And this sui generis show deserves to be seen in a small setting like the Signature's intimate three-sided space - a Broadway transfer is both unlikely and ill-advised.

While "Octet" never quite achieves the catharsis of a therapeutic breakthrough, it can bring chills in a more old-fashioned mode of human self-improvement: resolving discord through soul-jolting vocal harmony.

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: Under Annie Tippe's taut direction, all eight bits of Octet's byte-size cast perform Malloy's challenging compositions with exceptional skill, abetted by Or Matias's musical direction and Hidenori Nakajo's sound design. As Broadway shows increasingly rely on massive spectacle, Octet proves that well-polished pieces of eight are enough.

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