As a brief preface to this post, let me just acknowledge that I am fully aware of how lucky I am to have a boyfriend who probably couldn't name any of the college teams that were in the Final Four this year (correct me if I'm wrong, babe), and who seems endlessly willing to tromp around the city with me attending cultural happenings instead of staying home to watch sports. I seriously hit the jackpot with him.
I am also lucky to have a diverse and creative group of friends who work in a variety of fields. Their unique perspectives enrich my life on a regular basis, but today, I was able to tap my network in a more tangible way. You see, my old high school pal, Tamar, does backstage work at a variety of theaters around the city, and is currently working on White Noise, a new musical that is being tested in Chicago before heading to Broadway. She posted a couple weeks ago on Facebook that the theater was "papering the house" or giving away free tickets in order to fill seats during the first few weeks of the run, and to get in touch with her if we were interested in comped tickets. Naturally, I took her up on her offer and scored a pair of free tickets to the show tonight.
White Noise tells the story of a white supremacist rock trio who are discovered by a big-time music producer who wants to take their act to the mainstream, albeit with a subtler, more coded message. The show underscores the disturbing power of superficial packaging and marketing in America, and how audiences are willing to accept many products of popular culture uncritically. It seemed like an interesting premise, and with the credibility added by producer Whoopi Goldberg, I thought the show seemed worth checking out, especially for free. Oh, and I might have been a wee bit motivated by the fact that this production stars Mackenzie Mauzy, who used to be on The Bold and the Beautiful, back when I was in college and had more time for soap opera watching...
The show was, predictably, somewhat hard to watch given the subject matter, and very heavy-handed, though that is probably to be expected considering the premise of the show is that Americans don't look for messages in their entertainment. Hence, the show feels compelled to hit you over the head with one. There was not a sympathetic character in the bunch -- everyone eventually sells out or compromises their beliefs in some way.
I found myself wanting to like some of the characters; Jake, the talented young producer who works for Max initially refuses to work with White Noise but ends up giving into the lure of money; Eden, the least racist of the White Noise members ultimately values fame and an escape from her impoverished upbringing more than her ideals; and Dion and Tyler, the wholesome African-American Ivy League grads who want to sing songs that are full of positive messages ultimately allow Max to market them as Blood Brothers, a gangsta rap act whose biggest hit is "Nigga Gonna Shoot The Whiteboy." As for the rest of the characters, there is nary a redeeming quality to their one-sided terribleness.
The acting with which they are portrayed is similarly over-the-top (not surprising in Mauzy's case at least, given her soap opera work), substituting petulance and attitude for intensity of emotion. Nobody seems to have much depth of motivation, beyond the obvious. Yet, despite the lacking quality of the performances from an acting perspective, the singing was actually quite impressive. Musically, the ensemble was very talented, and every voice seemed well-cast for its role. However, I can’t say there was really a memorable song from the entire production. Justin made a comment that he didn’t foresee any of the songs from White Noise making any future “Best of Broadway” compilations, and I agree with him. The songs were catchy and at times disarming (an earnest ditty from the band’s audition with Max entitled “Welcome to Auschwitz” comes to mind), but none of them really stood out to me.
My only complaint was with the sound design for the show – in order to channel a rock concert atmosphere, the entire show was very loud. Before the show, Justin and I had been joking about him falling asleep during the production, because he had to pick his sister up at the airport at 5:00 this morning, but as soon as he saw the speaker set up for the show, he knew he’d definitely be awake for the entire thing. In fact, I spent several musical numbers with my fingers in my ears trying to cut down on the noise levels because my ears were starting to hurt.
Both of us enjoyed the stage design, which echoed the scaffolding and temporary sets one might see at an arena rock show. Clever use was made of onstage cameras as well, which projected the action onto screens above the stage, again, like a rock concert. There were a bit too many strobe lights for my taste, and Justin found the overall lighting design to be too bright. This too was in keeping with the tone of the production – everything was very loud, very bright, very flashy, and very in-your-face. It was not a night of theater for the faint of heart.
Rumor has it that White Noise is bound for Broadway, but I’m not sure it’s quite ready yet. It is a challenging piece of theater, but not unlike the titular band itself, I think it could use a bit of tweaking to make it more palatable to a mainstream audience. I certainly wouldn’t have gone to see it if I hadn’t gotten free tickets, and I don’t think that kind of audience attitude will net the producers a profitable Broadway production. Technically, the show has good bones, but a few tweaks here or there to the lyrics and writing, and a few notes to the performers on their acting, and the producers might really have something.