Friday, July 24, 2009

White Noise

Just finishing a three-week run at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carrè is the cautionary musical "White Noise." This is the first production to take advantage of tax credits that were created by the state legislature to lure first run shows here first before they bow on Broadway or take to the road. It is an important part of the response of the theatre community and its advocates to make New Orleans a vital center for national and regional theatre. It is appropriate this show is being held at Le Petit, since it is the oldest continuously operating community theatre in the nation. Yes, that's right. The nation. New Orleans has long been at the forefront of the arts and while it does take a back seat to New York and other major cities in the promotion of the arts, we do hold our own. As to "White Noise," it has the potential to be the next "Hair" or "Rent." It deals with the very tough subject material of racism and how we should respond to it. The cast was assembled in New York, went through three weeks of rehearsals there, journeyed down to the Crescent City, had one additional week of preparation and then opened their doors almost three weeks ago. The reviews have been largely positive and the performances of this very young cast have been spectacular. I have seen it twice. The first time I was so pulled into the show that I was not able to absorb many of the intricacies of the book and the impressive score that is both riveting and fresh. The basic plotline involves a pair of beautiful blonde sisters, Eva and Kady Siller (played respectively by MacKenzie Mauzy and Patti Murin), who respond to their father's suicide by becoming members of a band with a message of hate against all those they hold responsible for his death. They team up with a menacing skinhead named Duke (Patrick Murney), who makes no bones about wanting to espouse his racist lyrics to rally like-minded racists. The group's name is an obvious metaphor, but it isn't until they are "discovered" by successful producer Rick Kent (Brandon Williams) that their message is coded and made more mainstream. Along the way Kent's protégé, Kurt, a talented musical genius repulsed by their message, is convinced to become a member of the group in order to make their message more tolerable to the masses. In short order a song decrying black people is re-titled "Monday's Suck" (as Kent explains to Kurt: "Everybody hates Mondays!") A popular rap group - Blood Brothers - is also used in juxtaposition to show their similar hateful "N.G.S" in which their profane laced lyrics profess a need to shoot whites. Their opening number for Act II, "Hip Hop Country" is a choreographic masterpiece with lyrics and music that steal the show. The music and lyrics by brothers Robert and Steven Morris, Joe Drymala and Joe Shane make the show even more compelling than the masterful book by young writer Matte O'Brien. O'Brien bravely professed in a talkback session last Tuesday night to the audience that some of the writing came from experiences he had as a young gay male. The homophobic hate he has seen could easily be translated into anti-Semitism and other racist thinking. The love story between Kurt and Kady is worthy of mention in that it shows the dichotomy of their feelings for each other and their disconnect with regard to Eva and Duke's message of hate. Despite enormous success, the characters spin out of control until tragic events rip the two groups apart. This is a show that Broadway should take to like a duck to water. Its message is raw and the language is frank, but the production has the potential to take the theatre district by storm. The production is due to open in a legitimate Broadway theatre in late fall or early 2010 and I predict we will hear more from them on what might then be the Great "White Noise" Way.

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