Moose on the Loose: Theatre West, 6/3/11

6 06 2011

Moose on the Loose: Review for EDGE Los Angeles


Thank You from Thank You, Mr. Falker

30 05 2011

Thank you to all who attended and supported the new family musical Thank You, Mr. Falker over the past three weeks at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre!

By the numbers, we reached at least 1500 audience members over the course of our run: 6 public performances and 4 school shows. Thanks to our kickstarter campaign and a grant from the City of Santa Monica and the Santa Monica Arts Commission, we were able to donate many tickets to underprivileged youth in the area. We had an incredibly diverse audience, from young children to grandparents, from families in need to unexpected celebrities like Jennifer Garner and William H. Macy. I was particularly thankful to share the show with my librettist Andrew Bentz visiting from VA, my family visiting from NC, and my fellow LA theater critics and friends. Your feedback and support means more than you will ever know.

More important than the statistics, though, I think our production had a tangible impact on the audience members and the production team alike. Patricia Polacco’s book Thank You, Mr. Falker is probably not a natural choice for a musical. It is the story of a little girl struggling with dyslexia until an inspirational new teacher helps open up the world of literature. But thanks to the incredible work of the cast, creative team, parents, and other volunteers, I hope … and I truly believe … we created something special on that stage. A show enjoyable for both kids and adults. A show that advocates for the importance of arts education without being too didactic. A show in a classic musical theater tradition that builds a strong sense of ensemble.

At least these were the ideals that we aimed for. And in fleeting and beautiful moments, I think we actually achieved them. Just look how much fun our kids had warming up before every performance. I wish I had this sort of creative community at their age:

I was lucky enough to sit in the middle of the audience for the closing show yesterday. There was a little girl in front of me, probably 7 or 8 years old, perched on the edge of her seat during the entire musical – enthralled by the kids singing and dancing together. There were children around me who sounded out the words along with Trisha and shared in her triumph of finally learning to read. And the talkbacks and the conversations I have had after each and every performance often exceeded the joys of the show itself.

This was the first live theater experience for many children in our audience. Whether these young audience members become theater practitioners, regular theatergoers, or just more empathetic individuals for having seen our show, it is fulfilling to have been a part of something with the potential to positively, tangibly shape someone’s life. I know the experience of collaborating with such a talented, dedicated production team has positively shaped my own.

So what’s next? I’ll be catching up on a few theater reviews in the next couple of weeks, then I am off to Israel with Emanuel Azenberg and friends for a (much-needed) vacation. Sadly, I will be missing the excitement of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, TCG Conference, and RADAR L.A. in June … but I will be back reviewing in full force by July! Again … thank you, all.

Student-produced musical ‘Thank You, Mr. Falker’ makes debut

16 05 2011

Student-produced musical ‘Thank You, Mr. Falker’ makes debut

Thank you, Andrew Froug, for the great write-up in The Daily Bruin. If you haven’t seen Thank You, Mr. Falker yet, join us! I will be attending all remaining shows and would love to see you there!

Dates: May 14 – 29, Saturdays and Sundays at 11am

Venue: Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405

Tickets: Available online at or by calling 310-828-7519. $8 for adults, $6 for children 12 and under.

Press: If you are interested in reviewing this new family musical, please contact the box office at or 310-828-7519.

Gratitude for the LA Theater Community

10 05 2011

I have been less present on the theater reviewing scene in the past few months – for several reasons. My family musical Thank You, Mr. Falker opens this weekend at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre. I have had a slight addiction to CYCLOPS: A Rock Opera, which inspired repeat viewings and multiple posts on the same show. But even more significantly, I have been in the midst of PhD qualifying exams. I have been studying theories of corporeality, integration, and temporality for at least 8 months. (A little theater here and there, too.) Writtens were just before Easter, my final oral exam was today – and I passed! I am now a PhD candidate with “only” the dissertation to go. 🙂

Academia was an obvious choice for me after undergrad. I have an insatiable passion for knowledge, and I am genuinely excited to get started on the dissertation now that I have advanced to candidacy. I am so fortunate to have 4 brilliant, supportive scholars on my dissertation committee. Today’s exam was more like a conversation than an intense questioning. A lot more enjoyable and less stressful than I expected!

Of course, one reason why the exam was less stressful is that I had “rehearsed” my answers. I didn’t know the questions going into the exam today. But for the past 8 months, I have been an avid theatergoer, a fan, a critic, a composer, a music director – and this nebulous thing called the LA Theater Community has continually engaged me in conversations about theater and performance studies. For that, I feel incredibly blessed and grateful.

One reason I decided on a PhD program in Theater and Performance Studies (rather than English, which I was also considering) was the collaborative aspect of theater. While I was at Duke, theater – and specifically musicals – became an important mode of mediating my social relationships and shaping my cultural world. As much as I enjoy academia, it can be a lonely and isolating pursuit – even in the realm of Theater and Performance Studies. The past 8 months consisted of studying my bibliographies, writing and rewriting my prospectus, organizing and reorganizing my plan for the dissertation; I was mainly holed up in my apartment amidst stacks of articles and books. Meetings with my professors were always welcome conversations, but scholarship is still often an isolated, mental pursuit. Writing stages imaginary conversations among theorists and texts.

Enter the “LA Theater Community.” Amidst all this potentially isolating intellectual work, the idea of a theater as a mode of relation has been central to my life in the past few months. Music directing (Is There Life After High School, Happy End, Gone Missing, Thank You, Mr. Falker, and sporadic concerts and benefits with friends) has been a space of rehearsing my theories about the musical, of actively engaging with my thoughts in practice, of seeing both the ideals – and the contradictions and conflicts – within any community. Thank you to all with whom I worked creatively over the past few months – directors Gary Gardner, Hunter Bird, and Lane Williamson, choreographer Christopher Albrecht, all the stage managers and casts and crews. You were the vibrant musical numbers to my academic narrative; you gave me a renewing respite from my academic work each and every day, not to mention a space to actively discuss and engage in embodied practice of the musical, which I view as invaluable to my scholarship.

What more can I write about CYCLOPS? (Perhaps you should ask me again when I start my dissertation.) This rock opera was simultaneously an ecstatic, Dionysian release from my academic work – and a theatrical experience that actively engaged my scholarship. Psittacus Productions could not be a more brilliant or welcoming company; the sense of communitas among their ensemble palpably extends to the audience. And, by the way, I wrote most of this post before closing night … which Colin Mitchell can attest was a pretty ridiculous and unforgettable experience in my superfandom. (Yes, that was my imaginary overture of Jayson Landon Marcus’ and Benjamin Sherman’s incredible music playing at closing.) Once in a while, shows like Venice and Cyclops come along, reassuring me that theater (and specifically musical theater) can be layered, political, generous, and endlessly entertaining.

I feel blessed to be in a position in the LA theater community where I can advocate for such exceptional new work, in my own small way. But my position in the critical community would not be possible without a great deal of support from readers and fellow critics. I started blogging about a year and a half ago. Colin Mitchell at Bitter Lemons picked up on my work first, for which I am endlessly grateful; he has been one of my greatest supporters and has brought attention to my random, start-up blog in a way that I never imagined possible. In the early months of my blog, I had some fun debates about styles of theater criticism with Trevor Thomas – who is now my fantastic editor at EDGE Los Angeles. And I recently signed on to write for Stage & Cinema, as well. A theatergoing habit has turned into a reviewing practice and, hopefully, can one day become a core part of my career.

My place in this virtual community of theater critics is amplified and enhanced when I have the great pleasure of spotting a fellow critic at the theater: Steven Leigh Morris at Crack Whore Galore, Tony Frankel after Three Sisters or Perestroika, Colin Mitchell at CYCLOPS (twice!). My life is literally structured around theater dates with friends. I cherish the conversations that surround the theater experience as much as, if not more, than the theatrical experience itself.

I recently accompanied a group of UCLA musical theater undergraduates at a Center Theatre Group benefit in Palos Verdes Estates. Over dinner, one of the donors asked me what my “dream role” would be. I explained that I’m not really an actor, but my dream role is actually what I’m doing right now: composing, music directing, reviewing, and engaging in academia. The LA theater community allows me to negotiate multiple roles and to continually push myself into new fields. I never thought I’d find my “dream role” in Los Angeles; I was certain to be NYC-bound after undergrad. And yet here I am after 3 years, honored to be a part of it all and even beginning to call LA “home.”

With so many upcoming theater conferences in LA, we are continually attempting to define this nebulous thing called Los Angeles theater. Yet its excitement, perhaps, is its dynamism and continually shifting shape. We all play multiple roles, as artists and audiences. LA theater is multifaceted, decentralized, vibrant, and mutually supportive. The sense of community is palpable and has been so important to me lately. Thank you all for your continuing support. See you at the theater!

Press Release: Thank You, Mr. Falker

8 05 2011

Fellow critics and friends, my new family musical premieres next weekend! One reason I have been quieter on the critical scene lately is because I have been music directing my LA premiere Thank You, Mr. Falker, part of the LA Festival of New American Musicals. I would love to see you there!

Music by Sarah Taylor Ellis
Book and lyrics by Andrew Bentz
Directed by Lane Williamson
Music direction by Sarah Taylor Ellis
Choreography by Christopher Albrecht
Produced by Mary Morra & Jennifer Polhemus

Trisha has a talent for drawing, but when she tries to read stories she loves, the letters appear all mixed up. She hides her disability from teachers and classmates until the arrival of Mr. Falker, a gifted teacher who makes the ultimate difference for Trisha. A humorous, poignant new musical best enjoyed by ages 5 to 105.

Dates: May 14 – 29, Saturdays and Sundays at 11am

Venue: Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405

Tickets: Available online at or by calling 310-828-7519. $8 for adults, $6 for children 12 and under.

Press: If you are interested in reviewing this new family musical, please contact the box office at or 310-828-7519.

Hear a preview of the show and our talented cast, which features 5 adults and 10 amazing children, at (You can also hear an imaginary overture to CYCLOPS on my soundcloud, because I have a ridiculously diverse musical theater personality.) Feel free to contact me with any further questions (, and I hope to see you soon!

Thoughts on Repetitive Theatergoing

29 04 2011

Stark Young (1881 – 1961) was arguably the most poetically idealistic drama critic America has produced. […] Young quit a one-year stint at The New York Times because he disliked the daily grind, having to come up with an immediate response, provide a plot summary, and insert puff pieces. His preferred method was to choose which play he would review, attend it several times, and weigh his impressions before composing a well-wrought essay.

Stark Young is a kindred spirit. I make no claims to my reviews being particularly poetic or well-wrought, although I try – but I am unabashedly idealistic. I enjoy writing off-the-cuff reviews for shows that I only encounter once, but it is nice to find a historical precedent for my repetitive theatergoing and reviewing habits too.

You see, I latch onto certain shows and develop this deep, affective relationship to them. While some people have an enviable breadth of general knowledge in a particular field, I have this tendency towards (almost unbearably) close reading. When a text hooks me – a book, a film, a musical -it’s like a pebble thrown into a lake: the text is this deep, centralized nexus with a ripple effect, leading me to other texts circling around that object. I obsess.

In other words, I saw CYCLOPS: A Rock Opera for the 6th time last night. I’m feeling a little self-conscious about it. But this isn’t atypical. I saw Venice at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, I think, 8 times last fall; I was named the Venice “superfan,” which comes along with a certain amount of pride and embarrassment. (Not to mention a hoodie and autographed poster!) Before that, I saw Company with Raul Esparza about 7 times, and I saw Next to Normal and In the Heights maybe 5 or 6 times each. I went to the midnight openings of the Lord of the Rings films when I was in high school – and renewed that obsession with a day-long trilogy marathon at the Egyptian Theater this winter. (Of course I saw the AR Rahman musical adaptation in London – twice – and the musical parody Fellowship! here in LA.) I have read Tolkien and CS Lewis and Jane Austen and the Brontes and other favorite authors’ novels too many times to count. And then comes the literary tourism …

Maybe all this is just pretentious intellectual justification for being a CYCLOPS groupie lately. After all, that is how we typically think of people who invest so much money, time, and energy into a music group or film or TV show: superficially obsessed fans, entirely devoted and entirely uncritical. There is an undeniable social stigma around this sort of “teenybopper” fandom. It comes with a sense of pride in one’s detailed knowledge of a particular cultural object – coupled with a sort of self-conscious embarrassment. A fan’s investment in the object is uncomfortably close. Fandom comes with a paradoxically proud confession of guilt: “I really shouldn’t love X this much … but I do.”

What function does repetitive theatergoing serve? (Or repetitive reading or movie-watching or music-listening?) Why develop this deep, invested relationship to cultural texts?

This is a complicated question that I am endlessly struggling to tease out, but I do think my choice of the words “deep, invested relationship” is telling. Inherent in this sort of “relationship” with a cultural object is a desire to know it, inside and out. I think this sort of close, affective bond is especially strong for people who have been socially marginalized at some point in their lives; we often invest in music or theater or novels in the absence of meaningful personal relationships – or, rather, in the hope for future personal relationships that will mean as much. (As an artistic dork from Albemarle, NC, I speak from personal experience.) But I think everyone has a bit of obsessive, repetitive fandom in them …

This is because repetition can instill a comforting sense of familiarity, like a tried-and-true friendship; it is a stable bond predicated on previous encounters. I can sink into CYCLOPS now knowing every word, every chord progression, anticipating – and heightening my attention – for my favorite parts. Of course, these tend to be the musical numbers. You’ll literally see me beaming from the audience as the cast drives into “Bloodier Than the Cherry” or “Penelope” or “Galatea.”

These are moments that I have mentally repeated quite a lot lately … because, coupled with the intimate familiarity of a cultural text, there is an ever-present sense of impenetrability: the inability to ever wholly know a thing (or a person). The pebble never hits the bottom of the lake; instead, it endlessly ripples out into new contexts and meanings. CYCLOPS has me listening to Handel’s Acis and Galatea and glam rock, reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and reviewing my Greek theater history lately. As I mentioned in my last article, take a friend to see CYCLOPS, and you’ll likely walk away with yet another cultural reference to probe. No repetition – especially in “live” theater – is ever exactly the same; it always intertwines sameness with difference. This is part of the pleasure of repetitive theatergoing for me. Instead of opening out into an empty refrain, repetition accumulates meaning in densely sedimented layers. The texts that we obsess over could be good measures of our own desires for sameness and difference, for familiarity and change, for stability and dynamic range in life.

This is also the function of theater reviewing for me. Writing is a form of repeating my experience at the theater, engaging in that cultural bond in its ever-shifting contexts. The moment I press “Publish,” it looks like I have a stable opinion on a piece. But this is far from true – and it’s actually one of the beauties of a theater blog. You might be getting articles on CYCLOPS for months to come from me. Especially as CYCLOPS has undergone revisions for the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at Pasadena Playhouse – and as they anticipate future revisions for a summer remount – my own thoughts on the show keep developing. For the past few weeks, I have been mentally processing an article on mythological musical threats to the social order. Maybe a little Sweeney Todd and Little Shop of Horrors alongside CYCLOPS? Time will tell.

In my own idealistic world, fandom and criticism are not mutually exclusive. I should unapologetically embrace the fact that I am an obsessive, repetitive theatergoer with a keen critical eye – and my critical eye isn’t necessarily blinded by repeat viewings. Instead, each repetition ripples out into a host of new conversations. Theater is, after all, a mode of relation. Let’s keep up the dialogue.

CYCLOPS: A Rock Opera x5, Carrie Hamilton Theatre, Pasadena Playhouse

16 04 2011

One of my greatest pleasures over the past few months has been repeat visits to Cyclops: A Rock Opera, which recently transferred to the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at Pasadena Playhouse.

I think I’ve scandalized a few of my friends in the theatergoing process. After all, I am probably one of the most subdued people they know: totally conservative in my own lifestyle, although liberal in my beliefs. A bawdy rock opera for mature audiences doesn’t seem quite my style. But I am a mess of paradoxes and an unabashed devotee of Psittacus Productions’ latest theatrical venture. If you haven’t seen Cyclops yet, let me know when you’re going. Because chances are, I’ll join you. Again.

Having seen Cyclops five times since February with several different friends, I have thought a lot about the show itself, as well as its wide range of reception: what I see, what my friends see, what other reviewers see. Provocative on so many levels, Cyclops has opened up an array of discussions beyond the theater for my friends and me. I thought I’d take a short break from studying for quals and write a follow-up post to my original review to consider some of my ever-shifting thoughts on my own experiences of Cyclops in dialogue with my friends’ and fellow critics’ experiences.

Most of my friends react first and foremost to the open sexuality of the rock opera – and since most of my friends are traditional musical theater writers, actors, and producers, they instantly connect this new show to Spring Awakening. The comparison is apt. Cyclops employs a collapsed time frame (Euripides’ satyr play via Percy Bysshe Shelley’s 19th century translation is akin to Spring Awakening‘s collapse of Wedekind’s 1891 play into a contemporary rock musical). Cyclops also embraces the mediation of presentational microphones rather than hidden body mics, which was a radical, stylized choice in Spring Awakening.

I didn’t hate Spring Awakening per se, but my friends know that I have major issues with that show – so they’re shocked that I have such an appreciation for Cyclops. But for me, there are fundamental differences in representations of sexuality between the two.

Spring Awakening made me incredibly uncomfortable when I first saw it. I interned with the Broadway production in summer 2007 … saw it several more times … and started to articulate exactly why I took issue with the musical. I know Spring Awakening has been central to a lot of teens’ and young twenty-somethings’ identity formation; while I can respect that, I think much of the show’s narrative is washed out by the exuberance of the songs. Most frustratingly, Wendla’s encounter with Melchior is no longer a rape (at least textually, although physically it could be argued otherwise) – and Melchior emerges as a steadfast hero of a sexual revolution, rather than the very confused boy of Wedekind’s original play.

How does Cyclops differ? This rock opera is a raucous, bawdy, overtly sexual performance that literally consumes the Carrie Hamilton Theater. On a visceral level, I would expect it to make me more – rather than less – uncomfortable than Spring Awakening. You may even end up with a satyr in your lap! But the difference comes down precisely to the intimate, visceral nature of Cyclops – and to the gaze.

In Spring Awakening, the audience casts a voyeuristic gaze on the staged performance of sexuality just beyond the proscenium arch. The audience peers in on intimate scenes; most of the sex scenes are played realistically, behind the mythic fourth wall. (Maybe the experience would have felt different from the onstage seats … but with realist modes of acting for these moments, I still have my doubts.) This voyeurism is awkward, unsettling, unsolicited, and uncomfortable for me.

In Cyclops, on the other hand, the 99-seat Carrie Hamilton creates a potential reciprocity of the gaze. The audience member is never a protected voyeur; your gaze might just be met by the one-eyed Cyclops. That reciprocity of the gaze undoubtedly makes some audience members more uncomfortable. But paradoxically, I find that reciprocity liberating. It makes me feel less like I am objectifying the actors onstage. Instead, the actors invoke the audience members to enter into a shared Dionysian spirit of the performative, presentational rock opera. There is also a refreshing gender equality to the gaze in this show. Yes, the maenads are scantily clad, thrashing about in their undergarments, but the barechested satyrs play up their sexuality just as much. Cyclops requires the audience members’ willing surrender – even better, their active embrace – of that communal environment.

Once I enter into that Dionysian spirit with the actors, I see not so much the specific performance of sexuality onstage, but simply the performance of a remarkably talented ensemble. One level of my pleasure in Cyclops is seeing the genuine enjoyment of the actor/musicians, their total dedication and investment in this dynamic rock opera in development.

I am also oddly reminded of the opening lines of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia:

THOMASINA:  Septimus, what is carnal embrace?

SEPTIMUS:  Carnal embrace is the practice of throwing one’s arms around a side of beef.

In short, I also take pleasure in Cyclops: A Rock Opera because it is about the (ever-ironic) passion of knowledge. This show saturates the audience in sensational spectacle and sound, but it also offers an intellectual pleasure of decoding the swirling array of cultural references onstage. Even more radically, Cyclops suggests that these visceral pleasures and intellectual pursuits – the body and the mind – are not so easily divided, but intimately bound up with one another.

If you have read the original reviews agglomerated on Bitter Lemons, you’ll notice that each reviewer traces a different genealogy of Cyclops. As I mentioned earlier, Euripides and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s translation are immediate predecessors, but some critics call the classical-sounding narrative “Shakespearean.” Some critics locate Cyclops‘  musical roots in glam rock, others see musical theater predecessors like Rocky Horror and Hedwig; an opera buff will even hear a nice bit of bel canto in there. The truth is, Cyclops: A Rock Opera calls up all these cultural associations and more. It is a distinctly postmodern collapse of times, places, and genres. I take the “poly” of Polyphemus a little more seriously with each visit. (Among the three new songs at the Carrie Hamilton, we even get some polyrhythms in the catchy chorus of Dionysus’ “Wine Conquers All.”) Each friend that I bring to see Cyclops has a slightly different frame of reference to mediate his or her experience – which always prompts a great post-show discussion.

The transfer from Son of Semele to the Carrie Hamilton has meant a more visceral theatrical experience, a more polished narrative and sound, three fantastic new songs, and amplified roles for the women, among other ongoing transformations that keep improving this new work. Cyclops is a protean show, and it literally feeds off its audience – which brings a different dynamic every night. So I keep returning to Cyclops, allowing myself to be consumed time and time again. Join me for the feast next time.

Kickstarter: Thank You, Mr. Falker

8 04 2011

“Stories are like honey, flowing through my mind …”

When I first learned to read, every book seemed to open onto a new, fantastic world. Patricia Polacco’s popular children’s book Thank You, Mr. Falker is all about the pleasures of the wide world of literature. But it also reminds us that for some, learning to read is a challenge. Thank You, Mr. Falker is an autobiographical account Polacco’s struggles with dyslexia: the kids who teased her at school, the family members who stood by her side, and the teacher who helped her to triumph and become a world-renowned children’s book author and illustrator.

As of May 2011, Thank You, Mr. Falker is also a new family musical!

When I am not reviewing theater or working on my PhD at UCLA, I am a music director and a musical theater composer. (All that ample spare time …) My librettist, Andrew Bentz, is a current law student at UVA with equal penchant for crafting a debate or a song. We met at Duke University and have been writing musicals together ever since. Our latest project is a musical adaptation of Thank You, Mr. Falker for the Morgan-Wixson Theatre, which was workshopped in summer 2010. The world premiere production (May 14 – 29) is part of the 2011 LA Festival of New American Musicals.

The Morgan-Wixson’s award-winning Youth Entertainment / Education Series is free for all participating children; the cast for Mr. Falker includes 10 amazing kids, as well as 5 talented adults, fostering a special intergenerational bond in rehearsals. In addition to community shows, YES also invites school groups for special weekday matinees. For many children, this will be their first live theater experience.

To encourage a diverse range of families to attend, all tickets are less than the cost of a movie: $6 for kids and $8 for adults. But nonprofit performing arts cannot exist on ticket revenue alone. We recently started a Kickstarter campaign, hoping to raise money to provide more free tickets for underserved youth as well as to help offset the production costs, to enhance the set and costume budgets, to provide promotional support, and to pay small honoraria to the creative team who is giving so generously of their time to make the world premiere a reality.

Please support our world premiere production via Kickstarter:

You can hear a few demos on MySpace:

And if you are interested in mounting a future production at your theater, please be in touch: Andrew and I hope to publish and license the show following this exciting world premiere. We believe it is a story worth sharing.

(Now back to your regularly-scheduled programming of theater criticism …)

Burn This: Mark Taper Forum, 4/3/11

5 04 2011

Burn This: Review for EDGE Los Angeles

Consumed by Cyclops

4 04 2011

Biting into the LA theater scene with vivid reimaginings of classic texts, Psittacus Productions invites the audience along for a wild, provocative ride. “You have no choice but to be consumed,” says company member Liz Saydah. Their newest work reinvents the only remaining Greek satyr play as the raucous Cyclops: A Rock Opera. After a critically-acclaimed run at Son of Semele, Cyclops is transferring to the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at Pasadena Playhouse from April 7 – May 8.

Cyclops is as far from a “straight play” as you could ever desire. Historically, a satyr play would cap off the Greek Festival of Dionysus. After a day of tragedies, a chorus of drunken, horny Satyrs would ravish the audience with a ribald display of subversive excess; the narrative and form were a carnivalesque upending of the day’s earlier tragedies. What better genre to capture this pleasurable excess than a contemporary gender- and genre-bending rock opera? With musical muses like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury alongside theatrical inspirations like Rocky Horror Show and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Cyclops is primed to become a cult classic – and the tight-knit ensemble couldn’t be happier.

Developed in Son of Semele’s Company Creation Festival, Cyclops stems from a productive collision of worlds: classical theater and rock music. Many of Psittacus’ classically-trained actors, such as Madeleine Hamer and Paul Corning, embarked on the project with limited backgrounds in musical performance, but they embraced the experimental, Dionysian spirit of the piece with panache. Corning reconnected with his bass-playing skills to join the Satyr band and found to his surprise, “The practice of singing frees you physically.” For composers Jayson Landon Marcus and Benjamin Sherman, the experience was reversed; rooted in rock, they were thrilled to write for specific narrative and characters. Taking on the title role of the Cyclops, Marcus discovered a dynamic bridge between his rock band persona and this new theatrical character.

Cyclops: A Rock Opera began as a “dude-driven” project. The satyrs gathered in December 2010 to adapt the text (Euripides’ original play via the 19th century translation by Percy Bysshe Shelley) and compose the score, but Dionysus has offered them “serendipitous nuggets of joy” throughout the rehearsal and production process.  Under the direction of Louis Butelli, Chas LiBretto, and Robert Richmond, Cyclops began shifting and evolving with the physical components of the Son of Semele production, including the specific bodies inhabiting the stage.

At least three new songs are being added to the Pasadena transfer, including more material for the maenads. Originally cast as back-up singers, the company’s three women brought a new halo of radiance to the piece; for the transfer, their roles have been amplified in “show-stopping moments of feminine time,” according to Saydah. With scanty costumes and nymph-like energy, Cyclops releases the women’s sexuality – but in a liberating rather than objectifying manner, which Hamer observes is all-too-common in LA’s entertainment industry. In fact, the sexuality of the entire company – male and female – is refreshingly open and fluid.

Blame it on the wild excesses of Dionysus, whose central positioning Butelli calls “very Greek.” Dionysus does seem to have showered a divine presence on Psittacus Productions’ latest work, whose infectious songs penetrate the audiences’ bodies and invoke them to join the freeing ritual performance. According to Marcus, Cyclops: A Rock Opera “takes aside the rules of life and just lets you feel happy,” channeling “pure cosmic energy” in a vibrant, communal theatrical experience. At least for the night, audiences can be consumed in an exuberant, alternative musical universe.

(Edited version for EDGE Los Angeles)