The Chicago Stage Review liked The Hunchback Variations Opera so much that a second reviewer has weighed in with a second rave review.
J. Scott Hill writes:
“…The Hunchback Variations Opera is a modern masterpiece.
“The premise of The Hunchback Variations Opera is like the beginning of a joke told at a Mensa meeting. Beethoven (who is deaf) and Quasimodo (who is deaf) hold a series of panel discussions about their failed attempts to create a unique sound that neither of them could hear anyway (because they’re deaf)… This is one level of the genius of playwright/librettist Mickle Maher: combining incompatible elements in ways that are absurdly plausible, and readily accessible to a broad audience.
“Enter the musical magnificence of Mark Messing. This is not Maher and Messing’s first dance together; notably, they provided the script and the score for Redmoon Theater’s signature show, The Cabinet. Messing’s score for two voices, piano, and cello allows for the interpretive power of these four voices to be fully realized without the fetters of over-orchestration. There are the clear influences here of Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, and Philip Glass, without seeming derivative. Pianist Tim Lenihan and cellist Paul Ghica are less like musicians and more like puppeteers, making their instruments sing and emote in voice and in silence.
“George Andrew Wolff’s… tenor is round and full and robust.
“Larry Adams’s bass is sonorous yet subdued. He is pitch perfect in delivering what becomes increasingly cynical counterpoint to Wolff’s useless persistence.
“The Hunchback Variations Opera is funny and frustrating and absurd and poignant. The Hunchback Variations Opera is the most unlikely confluence of heterogeneous incompatibilities to ever work perfectly together onstage. Without doubt, The Hunchback Variations Opera is the DO NOT MISS production of the year in Chicago.
Full review here.
Oobleck’s recently extended production of The Hunchback Variations Opera continues to get rave notices from Chicago’s theater bloggers. Here we feature J.Scott Hill for the Chicago Stage Review and Rebecca Green from Chicago3Media.
Chicago Stage Review writes: “Enter the musical magnificence of Mark Messing… Messing’s score for two voices, piano, and cello allows for the interpretive power of these four voices to be fully realized without the fetters of over-orchestration. There are the clear influences here of Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, and Philip Glass, without seeming derivative. Pianist Tim Lenihan and cellist Paul Ghica are less like musicians and more like puppeteers, making their instruments sing and emote in voice and in silence.
“George Andrew Wolff’s… tenor is round and full and robust… Larry Adams’s bass is sonorous yet subdued.
“The Hunchback Variations Opera is funny and frustrating and absurd and poignant… Without doubt, The Hunchback Variations Opera is the DO NOT MISS production of the year in Chicago. The Hunchback Variations Opera should be extended and re-extended for months, but you cannot take that chance. BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW.”
Full review here.
Chicago3Media writes: “Maher and composer Mark Messing bring us the inconceivable, side-stitching story of a doomed collaboration in this gem of new musical theater… Theater Oobleck has struck gold with this absurdist romp through time and space and reality and fantasy… I haven’t laughed so hard at the theater in a long time.”
Full review here
Andrew Patner, reviewing The Hunchback Variations Opera for classical musical station WFMT-FM:
“Oobleck [is] a company that works without a director — some of their shows have one or two people, and some have fifty, and yet somehow they come together as finely-tuned, choreographed, and presented as an orchestra concert led by Ricardo Muti… These guys are afraid of nothing…
“Mark Messing has created a musical world with Paul Ghica, cello; Tim Lenihan, piano; a wonderful tenor, George Andrew Wolff, as Beethoven; and an excellent mature basso, Larry Adams as Quasimodo… You will hear music that challenges and pleases, that questions and underscores the debate and discussion.”
The audio of the full review and can be streamed or downloaded here
Jonathan Abarbanel gives The Hunchback Variations Opera his “Pick of the Week” during the “Dueling Critics” segment on WBEZ’s 848 program:
“It is a dark comedy which has the delicious premise of having two stone-cold deaf people discussing the glories and wonders of sound. And the two people are Ludwig van Beethoven… and the fictional bell-ringer Quasimodo…
“Messing’s music preserves all of the wit of Maher’s original play, and deepens the characters…
“Beautifully performed: two wonderful singers, piano and cello accompaniment.”
Your link for listening (we’re discussed in the last three minutes of the broadcast).
Kris Vire writes for TimeOut Chicago:
“Mucca Pazza maestro Mark Messing, using Maher’s text as libretto, sets Beethoven and Quasi’s nettlesome forensics camp to a spiky score for piano and cello…
“The result is as serious as it is silly, with Messing’s music amping up the stakes with its contrapuntal vocals… Wolff and Adams find a remarkable range from glib comedy to soulful sorrow in their characters’ variations. Maher’s text, while reveling in its own absurdities, slowly becomes a worthy meditation on the irresistible and often frustrating character of the creative impulse—and the subsuming nature of creative failure. Though the staging is simple, the operatic sweep feels apropos.”
Albert Williams writes in the Chicago Reader:
“In The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov’s melancholy comedy about a family of Russian aristocrats who lose their estate, there appears one of the most famous passages in dramatic literature. It’s not a speech or a bit of dialogue but a stage direction: “Suddenly there is a distant sound, as if from the sky: the sound of a breaking string—dying away, sad.” This odd, abstract, almost metaphysical sound effect, symbolizing the imminent end of a way of life, has challenged directors and designers since the play’s 1904 premiere, a few months before Chekhov’s own death from tuberculosis.
“The Hunchback Variations Opera takes its inspiration from that enduring dramaturgical koan, What is the sound of one string breaking? The 75-minute one-act from Theater Oobleck posits an attempt by two well-known musical artists to produce the ultimate aural embodiment of Chekhov’s elusive noise. The setting is an academic conference at which the pair are presenting the result of their labors.
“The effort seems to have been doomed from the start. For one thing, both collaborators are deaf. For another, it’s hard to imagine how they could ever have met. One is Beethoven, the composer, who’s been dead since 1827. The other is Quasimodo, the hunchbacked, 15th-century bell ringer of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris—and a fictional character invented by Victor Hugo in an 1831 novel.
“The setup is quintessential Oobleck—smart, eccentric, unpredictable, thought-provoking, and very funny. Since they arrived in Chicago 23 years ago, the itinerant ensemble—which takes its name from a Dr. Seuss book, Bartholomew and the Oobleck—has specialized in original works based on incongruous cultural cross-references…
“Written by composer Mark Messing and librettist Mickle Maher, and based on a 2001 play by Maher, The Hunchback Variations Opera is just what the title says it is: an opera, albeit a small one. It takes the form of 11 variations on the theme of artistic experimentation and failure, each of which Messing skillfully couches in its own musical style. The score is generally atonal and mildly dissonant, but there are some simple, lovely, melodic passages.
“The singing is beautiful. George Andrew Wolff’s bright tenor contrasts effectively with Larry Adams’s round, chesty bass, and both singers have first-rate diction so the text is always clear. The counterpoint between Wolff’s cheerful, well-groomed Beethoven and Adams’s morose, grotesque Quasimodo is mirrored by the bold give-and-take of pianist Tim Lenihan and cellist Paul Ghica…
“What’s never made clear is how exactly the experiment failed. The omission, of course, is deliberate. Maher and Messing make clear that, in art, failure itself is a failed notion. In the manner of other fringe theaters—and contrary to an increasing emphasis on competition in the performing arts, as the media celebrate the “winners” and “losers” of meaningless talent contests and mindless awards shows—Oobleck renders the concept of failure and success moot. The Hunchback Variations Opera, like The Cherry Orchard, is a meditation on futility. But Hunchback celebrates its characters’ aspirations, prizing process over product and championing the quixotic urge to create and to collaborate in a world that’s inhospitable to both.”
Full review is here — but spoiler alert, if gives away a few of the jokes.
John Dalton writes: “This is a masterful work. Chicagoans should feel greatly privileged to have such artists in our midst. It would be very easy for this show to get overlooked amidst the flood of winter offerings from innumerable theater companies occupying innumerable black boxes about the city. Though I hate to encourage you to ignore any of them, please think about making this show a priority. Theater Oobleck shows are rare, but they are all gemstones; this is no exception. Please see it while you have the chance.”
Full review here.
“Maher and Messing set off to create that impossible sound and in detailing a failed fantastical project they have realized an unmitigated, surprisingly endearing and impossibly successful masterpiece…
“Messing has composed a score for two voices, a piano and a cello that takes on more scope and achieves more musical depth than many works created for a full orchestra and chorus…
“Two geniuses have joined together to realize impossibility and it takes as much genius to bring it to life on stage. George Andrew Wolff is perfectly darling as Beethoven, holding the audience transfixed in his very cleverly subtle camp… Larry Adams is also a gold standard on the musical theater stage… Together with Wolff, Adams makes this impossible combination completely captivating. Their voices are wonderful and their performances are incredible.
“Tim Lenihan’s piano accompaniment is excellent and Paul Ghico interprets Messings unconventional cello compositions with evocative intuition…
“Theater Oobleck’s world premiere is a production the likes of which you cannot imagine. Mark Messing and Mickle Maher’s THE HUNCHBACK VARIATIONS OPERA is a staggering contemplation on the profundity of the unattainable. In peering into the void, they create a seemingly pointless exercise of thought that yields a transformation from the impossible to the sublime. Do not miss this singular masterpiece.”
In December, we presented the first couple “variations” of our work-in-progress: The Hunchback Variations Opera.
Venus Zarris of the Chicago Stage Review was there, and submitted this glowing report:
“This is NOT the stuff of standard theater, MUCH LESS standard opera. It IS the stuff of an absurdist masterpiece. Maher’s writing is cerebral and acerbic. Little to nothing about this script lends itself to music, much less the constructs of opera, but Messing takes the traditional framework of operatic composition and applies a musical quantum physics to perfectly meet The Hunchback Variations somewhere in the midst of the its unreal realm. We heard only a handful of movements to the opera. That was more than enough to know that we were in the audience of something extraordinary.”
See her full report here.
Theater Oobleck makes its Indiana debut, with this one-night-only performance of The Hysterical Alphabet.
The details: The University of Notre Dame (co-sponsored by Gender Studies Program) presents The Hysterical Alphabet, Wednesday, February 16, 2011, 8 pm, at Browning Cinema, DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.
It is free, but is a ticketed event. For tickets phone 574-631-2800 or visit performingarts.nd.edu.
More details are at the Gender Studies website
This hit show — a collaboration between author Terri Kapsalis, video-collagist Danny Thompson, and sound artist John Corbett — is currently touring American campuses. So far it has been seen at Bates College, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Clark University, the Rhode Island School of Design, and Emory College.
An appreciation of the performance at Emory is here … to quote:
“In a refreshingly non-didactic, yet pedagogical performance, Theater Oobleck’s The Hysterical Alphabet, is an example of what a 21st-century hybrid of art and scholarship might be.”
In addition, following its Chicago premiere, the work was reviewed in Newcity.
“Theatre Oobleck’s “The Hysterical Alphabet” is a beautifully nuanced mixture of historical treatise, medical discourse and poetic archive, chronicling the sometimes hilarious, often horrifying saga of the “female malady” that is hysteria throughout the centuries. Oobleck has remounted their inspired multimedia presentation at the Chopin Theatre, after premiering last fall in a one-night-only showing at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Terry Kapsalis’s remarkable text, an ABC’s of women and their wily wombs (now available in book form with fantastic drawings by Gina Litherland), is the axis material, but accompanied by Danny Thompson’s stunning video “documentary,” and John Corbett’s gratifying sound design, the sum transforms into something greater than its (private) parts. The three artists enter quietly, without fanfare, and take seats at a long table before a large projection screen. Aided by microphones, a computer/projector, record player and numerous sound folio devises, the performance/lecture takes off, with Kapsalis reading matter-of-factly, almost demurely, her lyrical chronology of ailment, while Thompson frenzy of found and original video images unfurl to the tunes (and crackles, cries and whistles) of Corbett’s manic soundscape. The trio packs an astounding amount of information into little more than an hour’s time—delivering a lesson that is wickedly funny, surprisingly heart-wrenching and not to be missed. (Valerie Jean Johnson)”
You can see an video excerpt of the play here and can order the book version here
From Nina Metz, who makes a compelling case that Colm O’Reilly = JFK + Orson Welles.
“O’Reilly gives a performance filled with incredible detail and subtlety, each twitch and twinge delivered in close-up. … Here is an actor plainly having the time of his life.”
An unexpected rave from an out-of-towner:
“Shapiro is riveting in a role with one action and no lines, but it’s O’Reilly who keeps making you laugh (“I return with future beer and potatoes!” “I am a very annoyed person!”) and bringing you to tears with the wasted efforts and barely submerged regrets.
“Mickle Maher’s text is a wonder and by the time Mephistopheles turns off the lights and leaves through the other door you’re completely taken up.”
“Do yourself a favor. Go see this and bring that friend of yours that simply has no use for fringe theater. This is one of those exceptional things that can make the doubter of storefront theater a convert.”
A lovely write up from Don Hall, the Angriest White Guy in Chicago.
From Gapers Block:
“With none of the muffled anonymity of hiding behind rows of theater-goers, you and your fellow patrons become part of the play itself, causing both discomfort and a sense of common purpose and witness to O’Reilly’s masterful turn as the man who sold his soul to the devil.”