It's not often that you find a musical theater piece guided by existential philosophy, but composer-lyricist Ty Taylor and book-writers Douglas Crawford and Jason Wooten have incorporated wisdom from such diverse sources as Buddha, Rabindranath Tagore, Jean-Paul Sartre, and even Quentin Crisp. The sayings, projected against the backdrop as the story progresses, speak of man's quest for meaning and self-knowledge. Billed as a "rockumentary," the music incorporates big ideas with introspection.
Beginning with "Premonition," the company invigorates the audience, but as the characters emerge, many featured numbers are poignant and a cut above the usual fare. Taylor and Jason Paige play the two standout principal characters, but their band mates Chase Matthews, Derek Manson, Laura Jane, Anjali Bhimani, and Maia Madison also deliver meaningful and believable performances. Paige, in particular, offers a beautiful and haunting "Writing on the Wall."
Director Martha Demson artfully moves the actors about the multilevel stage as the familiar story unfolds about a group of musicians who form a band, enjoy worldwide acclaim, and then suffer the fallout from that adulation as personalities clash. The diversity of the characters and the excellent musicianship makes for an outstanding ensemble.
Providing solid backup are music director Chris Wabich on drums, Farmer Greif on keyboard, Ken Rosser on guitar, and Rick Barrio Dill on bass. James Spencer's scenic design uses chrome and glass, adding a contemporary look. Concert-style lighting design by Dan Reed incorporates large movable screens that are mood enhancers. Projections and graphics by LiamCarlDesign.com and motion graphics by Anastasia Shepherd add to that mix. Peter Carlstedt's sound design–live mix is notable as well.
Though the actors fail to project in several critically emotional scenes, the play is very effective and thought-provoking. As part of Open Fist's First Look Festival, this is a solid entry that showcases new talent for the benefit of Los Angeles audiences.
Presented by and at the Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. July 30–Aug. 22. Variable schedule. (323) 882-6912. www.openfist.org.