The Faustian theme has found many a place in the world of modern music, from Robert Johnson's trip to the crossroads to Randy Newman's musical "Faust." It's a theme worth exploring, especially in these hyper-marketing days: How much would you compromise your art for a taste of wealth and fame?
Friday night at the Off Center Theater in Crown Center, Alacartoona addressed that theme in the musical comedy "Bought and Souled." Though the narrative itself doesn't take its audience to a new destination -- they do the deal and pay the price for it -- the viewer has fun getting there.
"Souled" opens with several numbers from Alacartoona: Erin McGrane (who plays Ruby Falls), Christian Hankel (Providence Forge), Gregg Jackson (Bachelor Calwood) and Kyle Dahlquist (Overton Woolridge). After a few songs, the Agent (Andy Garrison) makes his presence known. Eventually, so do his sidekicks, Adam (Vi Tran) and Eve (Katie Gilchrist).
And so begins the courting and seduction of Alacartoona by a force that wants to develop "internal branding initiatives" to milk the band's image of all the money he can, no matter the price. He seduces them with flattery and spurious product endorsements, like the Hyper-Feminizer -- a Ruby Falls wig that is guaranteed to make a gal sexier. It all leads to wealth and then moments of disgrace, like putting on goofy hats and shilling to children.
Garrison is effective as the pompous, cold-blooded agent. Tran and Gilchrist, though, steal the show. True, they get the funniest lines and scenes, but they play them perfect. The band, too, showed off some comic chops, especially McGrane, who did her usual carousing through the crowd -- ask local theater titan Ron McGee about the line she used on him -- and Hankel, the group's resident ham. His performance of the band's standard, "The Apartment," sounded particularly diabolical: part Alex de Large, part Heath Ledger's Joker. A few times, the band slid in and out of character, improvising a line or two, as if they were among friends and family (which they were). It only embellished the footloose, lighthearted vibe.
The Off Center is an ideal setting for a show like this. About two dozen audience members were right up front at the cabaret tables and many became part of the show. My only complaint would be that from where I was sitting -- front row, to the right of the stage -- it was hard to hear some of the vocals during a few songs (the drums overwhelmed one of Dalhquist's numbers). Otherwise, everything was satisfactory.
The music in "Souled" includes some new numbers and several others that were familiar to the many longtime Alacartoona fans in the crowd: "Drowning All My Sorrows," "Sailor Joe," "The Honey Won't Soothe the Sting," "The Apartment" and their rousing and fail-proof closing number "(Today, My Dear) I'm Yours."
Ultimately, the band ends up broke and without much of its equipment, which it surrendered to the Agent. And they're wiser for it. No surprise there. The only surprise is a pleasant one: that this prolific band can continue to produce music and theater that is smart and entertaining.
A repeat performance of "Bought and Souled" starts at 8 p.m. tonight at the Off Center Theater in Crown Center. Admission is $16.
| Timothy Finn, The Star