Thursday, August 16, 2018

Triassic Parq: The Musical - Dinosaur Rock Opera!

Before I begin; I have had a long history with the Paper Wing Theatre Company. I have performed with, directed, and written for several projects with the company and several performers involved with this production. I currently have a play entered in their “Play Reading Series” and have competed since the first year of the competition. I was invited to attend a preview performance of Triassic Parq: The Musical a few nights before the public opening. The conditions of my attendance were that I would write this particular disclaimer that would detail my relationship with the theater. 
Okay, now if this is your first time to my blog then you need to know a little something about me; I am one weird dude. Take a gander around the blog, look at the things I write about, look at the movies I watch, and the plays that I talk about, and you will see the ramblings of a consistently strange guy who enjoys entertainment off the beaten path. So when they announced Paper Wing Theatre’s production schedule for 2018, I’m going to be honest- the only production that really rang my bell from the get-go was the announcement of Triassic Parq. Not even kidding. The other shows? Some sounded okay and I would probably attend more of them then I would miss, but the truth is that I was kind of burned out and needed a long break from the theater community. But this show was a freaking beacon of weird!
The general premise is that we are going to see the events of a familiar film but flip the script and tell the story from the point of view of the dinosaurs. It was going to be a musical. It was going to be about the sudden and inevitable change in the social structure of the creatures when one suddenly changes their sex and the dinosaurs are now able to procreate. It was going to be a musical. There was going to be a MUTHAFUCKIN’ T-REX! I’m already all in the bag for the concept so my tickets are already bought and paid for, take my money, sit me down, bring down the lights, and start the show. This is what I want theater to be; Bold, creative, raw, original, and off the beaten mainstream path.
But that right there is the hype machine and that’s the easy part- the question is whether or not it delivers the goods. And that, my dear faceless reader, is where we really begin our little “review”… It always feels weird to me to use that dry and flavorless term to what I generally tend to write. But this is actually and precisely what I am setting out to do on this particular occasion. Because that’s why I was invited to the show- to review it.
Are you buckled in?
I feel like a junkie getting his fix.
The pop-rock styled musical follows in the vein of The Rocky Horror Show, Silence!: the Musical, and Batboy. Marshall Pailet’s music is brought to life by a capable four piece rock band (Piano, Bass, Guitar, and Drums) led by Pianosaurus (Taylor Safina), an often referred to and interacted with member of the dinosaur community. The book is by Pailet, Bryce Norbits, and Steve Wargo.
Triassic Parq opens with a pounding, driving beat that calls to mind the stomp of an approaching T-Rex. We are welcomed by scientists responsible for the creation of our lead characters. We open with a few key pieces of knowledge- The dinosaurs are part of a theme park. They were created in a lab. One percent of their DNA was derived from a species of frog and that should in NO WAY have any sort of an effect on the story. All of the dinosaurs are created female so there is no chance that they can reproduce on their own.  The dinosaurs soon answer to a roll call from our erstwhile narrator, Morgan Freeman (Kelsey Posey). The Velociraptor of Faith; Pastor-Mama (Nicholas Kelley), Katelyn the T-Rex 1(Kate Faber), T-Rex 2 (Erin Davison), the Mime-asaurus (Justin Azevedo), and our central protagonist, The Velociraptor of Innocence (Brian Balestrieri). They are a community living in relative peace under the watchful care of their deity, The Lab. They are fed, they are created, and they are cared for by the mysterious ways of The Lab and only Pastor Mama-saurus, a Raptor of superior intellect, is able to decipher the mysterious ways in which The Lab would prefer the dinosaurs to live.
Things go awry when one of the dinosaurs takes ill and develops a distinct feature, when that which once went “in” is now protruding outward. With such a change comes an explosive panic amongst the community. Pastor Mama demands that the dinosaur be exiled, other dinosaurs demand answers, and it’s ultimately up to our hero to seek out the long ago banished Raptor of Science (Kelsey Posey, once again). And then hilarity fucking ensues!
Balriesteri is perfect in his portrayal of the young Raptor, his movements a precise echo of the signature stride and curious head tilts of those from a familiar film. He has a clear voice and his growth from naïve innocent to defiant rebel is a clear fable to explore questions about religion, science, social gender dynamics, and even gender identity.  But while his journey guides us through the complex dynamics of opposing philosophies, we are drawn to the emotional weight of our two T-Rex’s left to work through complex emotional attachments and growing feelings both find incredibly strange. It’s difficult to express the performances of both Kate and Erin without spoiling the details, suffice to say that both tackle their performances with the skill and expertise of their craft that they have always brought to the stage.
Piano-saurus and Mime-a-Saurus are both hilarious additions to the cast, adding supportive gags to the hilarity onstage. There’s even some interaction with the erstwhile stage crew, some of whom come to feed the dinosaurs. Even a puppet goat, a familiar face for fans of the Jurassic Park series, gets in on the action with a beautiful duet by it and the Raptor of Faith.
But I would definitely be remiss to not mention the dual performance by Kelsey Posey, who absolutely STUNS as both Morgan Freeman (Our narrator of the evening) and the slightly mad Velociraptor of Science. Her manic energy and leaping strides truly captures the familial bond of the three Raptors. She is driven by a thirst for knowledge and an insatiable curiosity of forbidden lore. She hits an hilariously over the top Rap duet with Balistrieri (No stranger to the genre with several independently released albums under his belt as Trip B) on the nature and purpose of SCIENCE!!!
10 out of 10 and my favorite show of the year!!!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Giant Shark, Giant Monsters, Call forth the KRAKEN!!!!

This movie has been a long time in the making. I mean, seriously, a very long time in the making. The original Novel was released in 1997 and was almost immediately gobbled up by Hollywood’s “development hell” with author Steve Alten continuing the adventures of the lead character, Jonas Taylor, in a series of further titles. Jan de Bont, Guillermo Del Toro, and Eli Roth were all attached to direct the project and the project just kept falling through time and time again.
In the meantime, the past few years have brought a slew of successful “shark” films to the surface with The Shallows and 47 Meters Down both doing very well in the Box Office and that prime the pumps on the project which had found it’s director in Jon Turtletaub. The film was also set to feature Jason Statham with Lie Bingbing and would also be an American/Chinese co-production. Originally scheduled to release in March of 2018, the film was (wisely) pushed back to take advantage of the Summer Blockbuster season.
The results are a mixed bag. It’s crazy, over the top, and just violent enough to really get the heart pumping. The film knows what it is- a popcorn muncher that doesn’t need to delve too deeply into the shallow characters, but rather builds on the spectacle of a giant shark. At it’s core, this is a B-Movie with a great budget for visual effects. We mostly see a lot of CGI, but some practical effects help elevate the stakes and place the characters dead set in the path of a raging Megalodon. Statham is charming and funny and it hits all the notes it needs to.
But this is all there is. It’s a beefed up SyFy film complete with all the clichés you would expect to find in any one of a dozen shark films from The Asylum. Crackpot science, arrogant corporate billionaire, the wronged hero, the earnest scientist, tech wizard, and wise-cracking comic relief are all present and all do their thing and there aren’t any real surprises here. The movie goes where you expect it to, the “shocks” aren’t very complicated, and a major change from the novel doesn’t have half the satisfaction or horror as the source material.
You’re not going to go wrong with this popcorn muncher, but you shouldn’t expect more than what it promises to offer. 

 7 out of 10 and a strong recommendation.

GODZILLA: City of the Edge of Battle
Last year’s Animated “GODZILLA” film from Toho Studios built a new world for the giant lizard, both figuratively and literally. Featuring multiple levels of animation, including CGI, traditional techniques, and photo-realistic  texture designs it was an achievement in modern animation. And where we last left off, our heroes are stranded on the remains of planet earth after killing what they learn to be one of Godzilla’s offspring. The original is still kicking around hundreds of thousands of years later, and the scattered remnants of the exploratory force myst find one another and make new discoveries along the way.
Among those new discoveries include a tribe of humanity’s descendants, devoted to a mysterious “God” that guides their actions and allows them a small measure of psychic abilities. Haruo finds himself trusting the members of the Houtua, especially the one twin girl Miana,who helped to save him and treat his wounds. But the rest of the crew is distrustful, especially the alien tech worshipers; the Bilusaludo. But with their help they are able to uncover the remains of the long abandoned technology originally engineered to battle and defeat Godzilla- the Mecha-Godzilla.  
What is truly amazing about this film is that it is a deeply rich “Sci-Fi” story within the context of humanity’s struggle against a giant monster- the crew and survivors of the Aratrum have been lost in space for decades- but being further from the sun, and due to the effects of gravity on the dimension of time, hundreds of thousands of years have passed on Earth. Familiar elements from the Godzilla mythos are altered to fit the Sci-Fi nature (such as  replacing a giant robot with the self-replicating nano-tech of Mecha-Godzilla.) Slowly, but surely, cracks begin to appear in the certainty of Haruo’s mission to defeat the giant lizard and the morality of his actions come into play. How far is he willing to go to defeat his sworn enemy?
Currently streaming through Netflix, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle is a fun ride and highly recommended for fans of the genre.
8 out of 10.  

The Velveteen Rabbit at Paper Wing Theatre

So, I am a man of complicated emotions.
On the one hand, I attend a show based on a classic children’s book of the same name. The show is adapted for the stage by a dear friend (Amanda Platsis), who is responsible both for the writing and direction. And it’s a great show- very artistic, well-paced, humorous, and with just enough artistic license to remain true to the original but with enough of her personal touch to make it different from other adaptations. I leave the theater happy and in good spirits.
But on the other hand, my car breaks down halfway home and I need to call a tow truck. A friend of mine stops along the way in order to offer a hand, though it winds up just keeping my wife and I company while we wait for the tow. I’m already in deep to my in-laws for personal issues I’d rather not get into. And my night feels rained upon and I’m left in a sour mood. Also, the show was already ending it’s run. It’s not like anyone could use it to promote their show or get anyone to see it based on my thoughts. Why bother? It was probably for the best that I leave things well enough alone. I don’t’ have to review EVERY show I see. Right?
But that freaking monkey kept dancing into the peripheral of my thoughts throughout the whole week. Dancing, moving, jumping, and tumbling around with an infectious energy. That monkey got me to thinking about the show again and again throughout the course of the following week. Yeah, so blame the monkey.
The Velveteen Rabbit is a well-known story that has been adapted in many different ways since its publication in 1922. Written by Margery Williams, the story follows a stuffed rabbit given to a small boy on Christmas morning. The boy plays with all of his other toys, ignoring the poor rabbit. One of the other toys tells the rabbit how a toy becomes “real” and it isn’t long before the boy is playing with the rabbit more than the others. And then, as they say, hilarity ensues.
The title character is played with youthful devotion by Raphael Morgan Sizemore, a charismatic young man whose soft voice and earnest eyes deliver a sense of devotion to the Boy (Donna Libelo). The Rabbit is, of course, joined by a menagerie of other toys; The treasured and extremely sleepy Scraggly Lion(Cheryl Karoly), the pompous and sharp edged Tin Soldier (Larry Oblander II), the [not all] fragile porcelain Doll (Kelsey Hansen), and the exuberantly loud Monkey, Persis “Kaya” Tomingas. And, as I mentioned before, it was that very monkey that kept dancing into my head and demanding that I write something about my thoughts to the show. It kept asking me questions, it kept insisting I write something, it kept tugging on my ear and angrily stomped it’s feet and clashed a pair of cymbals that didn’t even exist in the play itself. It just kept pounding until I eventually had to throw up my hands and bring my fingers crashing down on the keyboard. It was an infectious performance.
The Toys eventually leave the comfort of their playroom and encounter a trio of curious rabbits, led by Thistle (Keira Maroney) who commands her small pack to hop and eat the delicious grass. They taunt the poor Velvet, who is unable to play and join in with their own games. The faeries make their presence known- each flittering about to perform a duty specific to its’ nature. Each charming in their own right, the faeries are led by Teardrop (Suzy Nichols). But a long shadow creeps over all the characters- the presence of an Owl, it’s puppetry design requiring a three people to operate as it glides along the stage with wide wings and it’s bright glowing eyes seeking through both the stage and the audience itself. Voiced by Laura Be, the Owl is a beautifully creepy set piece in the imaginative production.
It was an enjoyable experience, intended as family entertainment. The cast is very good and all are fully invested in their characters, to call name-check them all would be exhaustive but they all deserve kudos. The story is brighter than some of the original material, so some edges are softened and the artistic direction. Platsis, a veteran at children’s shows, brings the best from her young performers and her artistic vision includes a wonderful sense of where and when to place the best music beneath the action on stage. Artistic designer Cody Moore’s ability is evident in various costume pieces, his own signature stamp on another successful Paper Wing Production for Families.
7 out of 10 and would be a nice recommend for Families, were the play still going on.