White Rhino Report: Partying At The End Of The World

Publication date: 
August 26, 2017
Author: 
Al Chase

Over the years, The A.R.T.'s second performance space, OBERON at 0 Arrow Street in Harvard Square, has been the venue for some fascinating, boundary-pushing, rollicking works of art. The creative and artistic team at A.R.T., beginning with Artistic Director Diane Paulus, often program the use of this space to encourage the development of works by emerging artists. Such is the case with the sizzling "Burn All Night," that is enjoying its World Premiere through September 8th.

Beginning with a conceptual idea by Andy Mientus (TV's "Smash,"Broadway's "Spring Awakening") the creative team began to form with the addition of musicians from the synth-pop band Teen Commandments, including Andy's friend, Van Hughes and his bandmates Brett Moses and Nicholas LaGrasta. They set out to tell a story about a bunch of young New Yorkers, anxious about a potential apocalypse, but partying and coupling in the shadow of impending doom. So, why not tell the story in the setting of a dance club, using the kind of music that the kids would dance to in such a club. The Teen Commandments guys wrote a couple of songs for Andy, to which he added lyrics, and the project was off and running. They added DirectorJenny Koons ("Runaways" Encore production at Citi Center) and Choreographer Sam Pinkleton ("Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812," plus several previous Oberon productions).

Then they added a troupe of energetic and gifted actors, singers, and dancers:

  • Lincoln Clauss is Bobby, recently arrived in NYC with no plan except that of having escaped the micromanaging of his widowed Mom back in Pittsburg. Mr. Clauss is the perfect combination of naive, charming, scared, adventuresome, and resilient as he faces the concrete jungle knowing no one in the city. Serendipitously, within moments of stepping off the bus at the Port Authority, he encounters Holly, an old high school friend who had previously escaped the surly bonds of Pittsburgh to make her way as an artist in New York.
  • Krystina Alabado is Holly, who has shelved her artistic dreams to pay the bills in a corporate job. She invites Bobby to crash back at the apartment she shares with boyfriend, Zak. Ms. Alabado uses her singing and acting to create a character torn between her love for Zak, her support of Bobby, and her rekindled romance with Will.
  • Ken Clark as Zak is the very embodiment of a disaffected young artist. He had a hit two years ago that helps to pay the bills, but he is drilling in an artistic dry hole - nothing new that satisfies him has come to the surface for long while. Just as there are literal subterranean rumblings that shake the foundations of New York and foreshadow a major disaster, so there are rumblings in his relationship with Holly that tell of a possible relational apocalypse. The driving vocal power of Mr. Clark's opening rock number reminded me of Gavin Creel as Prometheus in "Prometheus Bound" in this same OBERON space.
  • Perry Sherman is Will, who shares with Bobby (and with Andy Mientus) the fact that they have lost their Dads at a young age. Will and Bobby make a pact to be each other's Dad. What does that mean? How will that relationship evolve? Mr. Sherman's impressive credentials include "Fun Home," "Spring Awakening," and the role of Marius in "Les Miserables." His Will exudes the confidence and cachet that comes from having the financial resources to host parties for Bobby and other friends, and to make a move on Holly, once he realizes that she is just about done with Zak. Mr. Sherman's performance is memorable.
  • MJ Rodriguez is no stranger to A.R.T., having appeared in last season's "Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women." As Oona, MJ's electric dance moves and soaring vocals help to set the scene for the dance club ethos.
  • Jamar Williams graced the A.R.T. stage in "Witness Uganda/Invisible Thread." In this show, his joyful countenance and exuberance in dancing and singing provide a nice counterpart to the gloom that pervades much of the action as the characters contemplate the possible end of the world. 
  • Ashley LaLonde as Kayla returns to A.R.T., having appeared in "Arrabal" and "Violet."

  • The remaining ensemble members, playing The Kids, are making their A.R.T. debut. They are Gabrielle Carrubba, Aurie Ceylon, Marquis Johnson, and AJ Rafael.

Scenic Design is by Sara Brown, Costumes by Evan Prizant, Lighting by Bradley King, and Sound by Jessica PazCian McCarthy is Music Supervisor, and the band is led by Michael Mastroianni, with Maxime Cholley on drums, Maddie Jay on Bass, and Claudio Raino on guitar.
 
Director Koons keeps the pace lively throughout the show, using every inch of the flexible Oberon space to create a truly immersive experience, especially for those patrons who choose to stand on the floor in the middle of the action that often swirls and percolates around them. The overall musical impression that I was left with was a vibrant mix of elements that reminded me of "Spring Awakening," "Rent," and "Runaways." It is no wonder that the spirit of these earlier groundbreaking musicals has provided fodder for "Burn All Night," for members of this cast and creative team have been involved in productions of all three of these predecessor shows.
 
Myriad themes abound and are explored or hinted at: being lost and rootless, feeling alone in a crowd, worrying about the future of the planet and the future of one's young life, making immature mistakes that hurt others, not knowing who to love or how to love, and ultimately, how to find and to offer forgiveness for those mistakes.
 
Forgiveness is a strong theme that emerges. Bobby betrays some confidences that hurt both Holly and Will. Can those wounds be healed? Andy Mientus addresses the issue of forgiveness - including the ability to forgive ourselves for young mistakes - in his Playbill notes: "In its creation over many years, 'Burn All Night' has brought me inspiring friends and collaborators, newfound passion for what has always made this genre magical, and best of all, forgiveness and even affection for that younger, messier me. People make mistakes when they are scared. It's not the end of the world."
 
As Mr. Mientus points out, it has taken many years for this work of art to get to this stage of development. It is often the case that shows that are birthed at A.R.T. often undergo further refinement as they move on to their next iteration. It would be my hope that this will also be the case for this already praiseworthy show. I would like to see it lengthened a bit to allow for further development of the Dad theme that is left hanging. I would also love to see more exploration of the love triangle among Holly, Will, and Zak - perhaps a polyhedron if we add Bobby into the mix. Zak hints at a spark he observes between Bobby and Will.  It would be worthwhile to explore a nascent bromance between these two characters.
 
Even in its current state of completion, this is a show worth seeing and celebrating. I am told that many of the remaining performances are already sold out. so do not hesitate to go online and secure one or more of the remaining tickets - even if you have to burn the midnight oil to do so. Burn it all night if you must!
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