Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"The Revolution Will Not Be Harmonized"

The Revolution Will Not Be Harmonized

Members of the Cast as "Freelancers"
Imagine a world two hundred years from now where workers are all freelancers.  But also imagine that in this post-apocalyptic world, everyone works for just one company, Spotif-Eye, laboring diligently day in and day out at tasks like shredding paper, shoveling dirt, or entering useless data that is never used.  At the same time, all eagerly anticipate that one day a year when the perfect song will be sung by the one lucky freelancer chosen to sing it to the entire world – all the time knowing that if in the meantime any one of them dares to hum, much less sing, even a few bars of some earworm going through her head, shots will ring out; and gone will be one less freelancer.

Such is the premise for the world premiere musical, The Revolution Will Not Be Harmonized, now showing at PianoFight and written/produced by Chardonnay.  As a San Francisco-based sketch comedy group, Chardonnay is a group of seven women who are venturing beyond their traditional “Monday Night Foreplays” into the realm of a fully scripted musical.  The result is dark comedy about the near-end of the world where the question of humanity’s continued existence may be up to three unlikely sisters of the freelance compound named BrandonsMom64, SK8terchick, and Starfish1. 

The premise is intriguing and imaginative in many ways.  The execution is done with highly contagious enthusiasm by the cast of nine women and one man.  The bottom line is that the premiere musical still feels more like an improvised, sketch comedy routine than it does a fully (or even semi-) baked theatrical production.  That is not to say there are not some laughs and fun to be had; but the desired polish of script, music/lyrics, and overall production is just not there at this point.

Paper-shredder Starfish1 (or “Star” to her friends) is actually pretty happy with her life in the Spotif-Eye universe where she exists.  Kaeli Quick literally bounces through her life waiting for “The Festival” when the one perfect song of the year will be sung (and in her dreams, by her).  What she cannot understand while surreptitiously singing with her buddy JustLaxin (Leah Shesky) is why, “If singing is so wrong, why does it feel so good?”  The answer becomes all too clear when her duet-partner Leah is downed by the watchful gun of the evil-eyed but always smiling Lieutenant (Rachel Rockwood). 

The Lieutenant is all-controlling in the freelancers’ world, and she brags with puffed-up pride and in southern blues delivery, “I Do the Choosing!” (This is the musical’s most developed and full-blown song about her role in selecting who will sing that one, annual song.)  The Lieutenant’s one obsession beyond absolute control is her looks and especially her hair, something her prancing, high-voiced hairdresser Maurice (Cooper Carlson) is quick to sculpt in all sorts of futuristic shapes.

Under the heaps of waste outside the freelancer’s compound exists an underground of resisters (all escaped ex-freelancers) led by Jan (also played by Leah Shesky).  There is some mild humor harvested in this group’s obsessions with artifacts of the past that they cannot quite figure out the original use (eyelash curler, Doritos bags with some chips as artificially crisp as ever, a dildo, and even a Yellow Book telephone directory – now used like a Bible by them).  Particularly strange in her over-the-top aggressive, bizarre, and sometimes funny behavior is Extremist Nancy (spastically played by Meredith Terry Vaughan). 

To help guide Star and her sister freelancers (Kitty Tores as “Bran” and Kate Jones as “SK8”) to the resistors and possible redemption of the world is Jessica Mele as the Elder.  A Rastafarian-looking soul, she only speaks using broken bits of song lyrics from the far-gone Twentieth Century (“Mama said there would be days like this,” “The end of the world as we know it and I feel fine,” “Stop in the name of love,” and so on and so on) – all of which is somewhat amusing but only for a short while.

Unfortunately, the overall short production is interrupted by an intermission, which has the effect of deflating the good will the first act has actually built as a much weaker second act leads up to a finale that looks like a bunch of friends created it at the end of a wild party night.  Overall, most of Matt Grandy’s songs are still under-developed and too often unevenly sung, with a couple of exceptions as noted above.  However, his keyboarding and background sound effects are a highlight of the entire production.  Hannah Barnard-Henke has created within clearly a lean budget allotment a set of costumes that have an appropriate look as one might to see in a comic book about the dystopian period depicted.  The production overall seems to have been produced on a shoestring budget; and with that in mind, much kudos goes to all for what they have been able to accomplish.

The Revolution Will Not Be Harmonized is not ready for prime time at this point.  That is not to say that the opening night audience did not have a rip-roaring time (helped partly by the ability to bring in with them large drafts of beer from PianoFight’s nearby bar).  If going-in expectations are set more for a still-raw but extremely enthusiastic production that has a sense of spontaneity built right into it, then a fun outing is certainly possible to be had.

Rating: 2 E

The Revolution Will Not Be Harmonized continues through February 25, 2017, on PianoFight’s Main Stage, 144 Taylor Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at http://www.pianofight.com.

Photo Credit: Jon Chang

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