BWW Review: ORIGINAL SOUND Reverberates Realness at Cherry Lane Theatre
For amateur musicians seeking success in the long shadow of the Blurred Lines controversy, riffing on someone's music without ripping it off poses a creative and legal challenge when both royalties and reputations are at stake. Sebastian Chacon kills as Danny Solis, a young and talented Nuyorican amateur beat maker whose primary instruments are his computer, his confidence, and his affable charm. The turntables spin gold in Adam Seidel's Original Sound, a fresh and frenetic take on the promise and perils of guarding intellectual content in the music industry.
When Danny, whose head is in the clouds of his aptly named enterprise Four Twenty Collective, discovers that one of his songs has been co-opted by singer-songwriter Ryan Reed (Jane Bruce), he knows exactly what to do: hitch his wagon to her star, i.e. "Flame her ass on Twitter and then link that shit on my Instagram."
Ryan has other ideas; Bruce shines in her performance that travels a catty-to-compassionate arc. Whether she's strumming her guitar, negotiating her space in the music industry or standing her ground, she, like Danny, seems both conflicted and committed.
Ryan initially disses Danny as "just some nobody" but eventually warms up to him and even begins to appreciate and respect his talent. When he sidles over to the white grand piano and plays an enchanting solo (composed by Armen Donelian for Mongo Santamaria's "Sofrito"), she--and the audience--is enchanted.
Elena Araoz directs a top-notch cast through 17 choppy scenes. I longed for more time with the members of Danny's family-particularly his well-meaning sister Felicia (Cynthia Bastidas), who attempts to placate Danny's mother and stepfather-and less time with Ryan's manager and crappy fixer (Anthony Arkin as Jake Colburn). His reality bites: "Jesus Christ, welcome to the music business. You make commercial hits now so you can make 'f**k you' songs later."
Going head-to-head with Ryan's agent is Danny's cool-yet-concerned roommate, Kari (Lio Mehiel), who steps up to serve as Danny's confidant and comrade. When duty calls, Kari becomes his quasi-arbitrator: "I'm sure most people are intimidated by you. But I'm not. And I'm not going to sit here and let you bescumber us a second longer." Colburn's attempt to gaslight Kari fails, who squarely commands the conversation and its outcome.
"Original Sound" avoids tripping over itself by staying out of the courtroom and focusing on what's behind the music: two seemingly radically different musicians who co-create a character-driven narrative that doesn't get bogged down by pushing an agenda.
Eventually, what began as a covert competition evolves into a promising, albeit forced collaboration. Danny, now navigating the commercial waters as an up-and-comer with an in in the legit music industry, wants to know how Ryan swims among the industry sharks, aka the people behind her label.
Ryan: "I evolved as an artist."
Danny: "Evolved or sold out?"
Ryan: "I softened my edge to appeal to a larger audience."
Danny: "I'm pretty sure that's the definition of selling out."
Critical to keeping "Original Sound" in tune are the generous notes of authenticity along the way. Throughout his performance, Chacon pivots between moments of energetic intensity, unwavering optimism, and youthful vulnerability. Sarita Fellows' vivid and contemporary costume ensembles are on point, and the perfect backdrop for all of this is Justin Townsend's stage design: two round overlapping black-and-white rugs that evoke images of records...a pristine platform for the dirty deeds at work in this compelling play.