BWW Review: Flying V Theatre's Revue of songs by JONATHAN COULTON a Sheer Delight
I've followed Flying V through many of its adventures over the years, and I've come to trust their instinct for stage-worthy material. Their creativity, their physical approach to theatre, their often child-like whimsy, are always refreshing-even when taking on complex, more mature topics.
Their latest offering is yet another eye-opener, and although its title - "It's the Rest of the World That Looks So Small: A Theatrical Revue of Jonathan Coulton" - is something of a tongue-twister, it is a celebration of one of the internet's most famous musical pioneers. Coulton, a Yale graduate, programmer and internet-based musician who has been a pioneer in open-source artistry, is famous for his "Thing a Week" series, in which he offered up a new original song each week (a strategy now deployed on Chris Thile on his NPR show, "Live From Here"). His lyrics and song subjects run the gamut, and bring to mind songwriters as varied as Elvis Costello, Tom Lehrer, and the daring duo They Might Be Giants.
In typical Flying V style, Director/Conceivers Jason Schlafstein and Vaughn Irving preside over a collaborative project in which the cast select Coulton songs and create elaborate visualizations for each. Ranging from undersea monsters to slick, morning TV show hosts, "Jonathan Coulton" is an engaging, often moving tour of a songwriter's mind.
What is especially gratifying is to find a live musical ensemble, led by Steve Przybylski and Jon Jon Johnson (who do the arrangements) providing an original score that draws from Johnson's talents on violin, Przybylski's on keyboards and guitar, with Katie Chambers on Cello and four other talented musicians. Working from the shadows, under Kat Fleshman and Rachel Knoblauch's multi-level set, they provide the vibe that ranges from exuberant rock to Nick Drake-like despair.
The talent assembled onstage, as usual, is phenomenal; Kristin Cardinal opens the show brilliantly with "I Feel Fantastic," a paean to the pill-fed life, and she closes Act 1 hilariously with the fine Ashley Zielinski in a paean to that most, um, American of pursuits, Curling. This being Winter Olympics season, their rendition of "Curl" is a perfect warm-up for a Canadian sport that has a special, geeky appeal for those less fond of the fistfight masquerading as Hockey.
This being Flying V ya gotta have a puppet or two, and in Coulton's "I Crush Everything" - sung with great sensitivity by Carl Williams - the ensemble deploys a ship-devouring giant squid, providing a comic counterpoint to a rather moody song. Williams' voice ranges from the plaintive here to the more, um, blunt in the show's grand finale, "First of May," with lyrics polite critics would be advised not to quote in the body of their review (although take it from me, this number is great, raunchy fun).
There's something for everyone, and every taste here; if you're on the rebound from a bad relationship Gianna Rapp's brilliant, sadistic turn in "Skull Crusher Mountain" will enable you to live out that revenge fantasy. If you're shy and dealing with a serious crush, Victoria Meyer's beautiful "Drinking With You" will give you loads of comfort. If you're looking to make a ridiculously bold fashion statement, Scott Abernathy's over-the-top "Fancy Pants" (complete with hilarious strip-tease competition) just might cure you. Then there's Seth Rosenke's slick TV host in "Good Morning Tuscon," which will help you get in touch with the celebrity hell only a few of us can aspire to.
Meanwhile for sheer spectacle it's hard to ignore Coulton's Bowie-Meets-Sputnik song "Space Doggity," with Meyers flying out over the stage as Laika, the pooch who was sacrificed by the Soviet Union for science (before our own Mercury program could get off the ground). Explicitly sequenced like Bowie's famous song about Major Tom, it still ends in mid-air, literally, with its serious historical counterpart set off against bright lyrics and melody.
Sydney Moore's costumes run the gamut, along with Coulton's songs and the ensemble's infinitely many settings and characters (who often barge in on each other's tunes).
Flying V's "Jonathan Coulton" delivers a rich evening of songs delivered with passion and more than a touch of wry-to-broad humor. A perfect antidote to those mid-winter blues!
Running time: 2 hours with one intermission.
It's the Rest of the World That Looks So Small: A Theatrical Revue of Jonathan Coulton runs through February 24 at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD
Tickets can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets online at http://flyingv.brownpapertickets.com, or at the door starting one hour before the performance.