Wicked Local: At Oberon, ‘Burn All Night’ looks into the faces of oblivion

Publication date: 
August 24, 2017
Author: 
Iris Fanger

The end of the world is coming, isn’t it? Or so each generation believes.

After World War II, the theater had Samuel Beckett’s bleak landscape in “Waiting for Godot,” followed by the anti-Vietnam protests of the flower children pictured in “Hair,” and later, the restless malaise of the young in “Rent.”

Now it’s the millennials’ turn to claim the stage with the new musical, “Burn All Night,” just opened at Oberon in Harvard Square. Written by actor turned playwright, Andy Mientus, with a score by Van Hughes, Nicholas LaGrasta, and Brett Moses, the show determines that the final hours will pass amid rock music and dancing, while the 20-somethings are drinking up and stoning out. The show is staged in the middle of a mostly standing audience, as if the world is one big, inclusive nightclub where the party never stops.

Blessed by a terrifically talented cast accompanied by a four-piece band of Berklee College of Music students and alums, and with director Jenny Koons’ sure hand on an uncertain tangle of plot lines, “Burn All Night” treads an uneasy line between concert-circuit culture and a theatrical format. The story is familiar but the solution to the problems comes courtesy of Mother Nature, worked over by the excesses of our civilization. The props - a mic planted on the side of each performer’s face, a phone held resolutely in each one’s hand - let us know we are in the here and now, even if the timeline is blurred.

The show starts with Bobby (Lincoln Clauss) on the phone with his mom: “Yes, I love you, no I am not coming home. I am grown up now.” A recent college graduate (communications major, of course), he is on a bus, leaving Pittsburgh for New York City, the land of his dreams. He knows no one in town, but instantly runs into a high school friend, Holly (Krystina Alabado), who invites him to crash with her and her sweetie, Zak (Ken Clark), a disillusioned musician and composer. Bobby later runs into the rich kid, Will (Perry Sherman), who adopts him as a friend. They bond over both having recently lost their dads. However, the relationships turn rancid over a period of weeks, perhaps months. Bobby is conned by Will to get back to Holly, his former lover. The foursome is backed by a chorus called “The Kids,” led by a glowing hot but cynical Oona (MJ Rodriguez).

Clauss gives the most impressive performance as he transforms from the innocence of the newbie in town to an unfortunate self-wisdom. Alabado has a sincerity about her confusion, given the three men in her life, while Clark delivers the most assured characterization and stage presence. Sherman’s character Will, the incarnation of the Devil, is a charmer, but has a back story we’ve seen before as the privileged, unhappy guy.

Whenever one of the songs is sung, there’s either a backup gyrating soloist or quartet of unison dancers, choreographed by Sam Pinkleton, reaching back for inspiration to the moves of The Supremes, combined with a suggestion of hip-hop. No one over the age of 30 comes on stage, but Bobby’s mom is a reoccurring character in the wings.

There is nothing uncertain about the mode of existence, portrayed in the continual scenes about The Kids and the lead actors drinking themselves to oblivion while doing drugs on the side. But then the lights go out, perhaps forever.

In its present state, “Burn All Night” might succeed as a concert evening rather than a theater piece, because it needs a believable beginning, middle and end, and characters who are more than outlines, not to mention a convincing second act.

On the plus side is the engaging score that makes one feel like dancing (with “Burn All Night” the best song), and a cast of performers who are always entertaining to watch. And Mientus got it right on the timeliness of themes: the fears of leaving the safety of home, and the dangers to life on our planet in these perilous times.

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