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Electric Party Songs and The Darker Side of Broadway

However you feel (or don’t) about the Beat Generation, you have to give Allen Ginsberg credit for his ability to transcend the limitations of that motley crew, always pushing forward and outward in his beatific search for the sublime. Perhaps no other modern poet has better exemplified the endless fluctuations of the underground, and how to eternally roll along with them. Our own Holy Fool: queer Buddhist Jew, vagabond truth-seeker, and the King of May. In all the ways that count, Allen Ginsberg was, and will always be, America.

And America, like it or not, will always have an influence on the global arts arena, so it is perhaps not surprising that the small band of multinational artists who comprise the “open program” of the Italy-based Workcenter of Jerzy Growtowski and Thomas Richards have embraced America, and Ginsberg in particular, in their touring productions I am America and Electric Party Songs.

Using Ginsberg’s poetry as a catalyst, Electric Party Songs was developed with social gatherings in mind, mashed ecstatic texts with Southern spirituals, “Capitol Air” with call-and-response. 

Displaying a chummy familiarity despite the less-than-intimate setting of the SFMOMA lobby, the performers began by praising the creative energy of excess, first as a duet between Alejandro Rodriguez from Argentina, and Lloyd Bricken from Alabama, then quickly incorporating the eleven-person cast. Bursting with exuberance like Kerouac’s “fabulous yellow Roman candles,” they may have been dressed liked a runaway chorus line from a revival of Hair, but their intuitive chemistry was pure Digger. 

Eventually, in a manner that Ginsberg would undoubtedly have approved of, the gleeful club abandoned word-for-word renditions of his poetry, and moved into a set of African-American spirituals, a focal point of much of Workcenter’s current research. A moving rendition of “Adam in the Garden” found several performers mixed into the oddience, keeping time and murmuring response, while in the center of the polite circle, the song leader Alejandro romped and wriggled with Davide Curzio (Italy), giggling, entangled, pulsing outwards, pushing forward: all innocence. By the end of the set it was impossible to believe they haven’t been here with us all along, hovering genially at the edges of our consciousness, just like the spirituals and the venerable poet that gave their electric party its juice.

Belters, babes, and consummate showmen – and that’s just the production crew! If Boxcar Theatre’s tongue-in-cheek tour of The Darker Side of Broadway, a dizzying slew of doomed ditties sung by most of the cast and crew, was an indicator, their upcoming production of Little Shop of Horrors (which opens May 20) should be a rip-snorter.

Highlights included a heartfelt West Side Story duet between ensemble member Amy Lizardo and “Ronnette” Nikki Arias (“A Boy Like That”), a tense, downtempo “Pimp’s Tango” from Threepenny Opera, between John Lewis (who will play Seymour) and Bryn Laux (who will play Audrey), and a hilariously bawdy “Glitter and Gay” from Candide performed by assistant director Lauren Doucette. After a terrifically evil rendition of a Shockheaded Peter song from artistic director Nick Olivero, a smashing performance of “The Cell Block Tango” from Chicago brought down the house, leaving us with appetites whetted like Audrey II’s for fresh blood, with a side of campy cheese.

 

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