Monday, May 9, 2011

White Noise at Royal George Theatre

Starting off with white lights flashing and the music blasting you get the impression that you are at a rock concert, only this concert seems a little more sinister, a little more uncomfortable to sit through. A beautiful blond girl in tight gold lame is belting out a tune called “Welcome to Eden” with dancers doing goose stepping while dressed like members of the Nazi party. As the pretty blonde girl sings about recruiting little darlings to Eden you get the impression that the message in this song is about recruitment of something completely different.

From that moment on and though out the rest of the shows hour and fifty minutes, "White Noise" proceeds to challenge its audiences to think and to be uncomfortable. The shows premise is how the music industry in order to make money will change people into being more acceptable to audiences thus being able to hook their fans into what ever believes those artists have though coded music.

The driving force behind this is music producer Max no last name who has already sold his soul to the devil and passed go, played with a larger then life oily charm by Tony Nominated Douglas Sills. Max one music group under contract, brothers Dion and Tyler played by Wallace Smith and Rodney Hicks. These brothers are well educated students who are willing to change their image into thug rappers the Blood Brothers in order to make themselves more marketable.

One night Max and his writer/producer partner Jake played with bristling anger at the moral dilemma he's faced with but who's also willing to sell his soul at the drop of a hat Eric William Morris, plan on going to see a sister act Eden and Eva play at a club. It turns out that Eden and Eva along with Eva's boyfriend Duke are all white supremacists. They play catchy offensive songs about illegal immigrants and even a song called “Welcome to Auschwitz.” Max seizing on the potential these girls have both in appearance and musically signs them and convinces Jake to join the band to modify their lyrics for a broader appeal and to prevent them from saying anything that could ruin the carefully constructed image Max is planning on creating for them.

The show then follows the rise of these two sisters and how they're willing to change their message to appeal to a wider demographic while Dion and Tyler are trying to change the demographic that they were originally sold too. Also there's a love story where Jake falls for one of the sisters Eden who doesn't share her family’s beliefs and a smaller story involving their mother played with grace by huge voiced Broadway and recording star Luba Mason. If you ever get a chance to pick up a copy of her album “Collage,” a disc I've owned for quite some time.

It's a fascinating story that makes you wonder how far the music industry and the buying public are willing to go to having a catchy song with an addictive hook, and then where will that hook lead us to after wards. The song “Welcome to Auschwitz” is turned into “Welcome to Eden” with similar lyrics but a different title and becomes a hit. As the song gets bigger and they find ways of coding their music to appeal to a larger audience they attract the attention of an internet blogger Teal Waters fashioned off from Perez Hilton played to the height of camp by Michael Buchanan. If this had a life after Chicago the writers might want to explore getting rid of this character and replacing it with possibly a reporter with a moral edge in order to show that someone in this piece has one.

I felt like there were a lot of stories going on here and the parts with the brothers could have been trimmed to focus more on the sisters relationship and the relationship between Jake and Eden. At one point I felt like Jake was using Eden to further his career and if there's going to be any stakes between the two it would help if that was tighten up a little bit more.

I also thought the songs which reminded me of an unpolished “Dreamgirls” but could involve into a powerful score. Right now there were songs that stood out for the power of the music and strength of the lyrics which helped during the uncomfortable songs. Some of the best pieces were wonderful songs like “Welcome to Eden, “Love Stories,” “Mondays Suck,” Not Your Enemy,” and “Fireworks” and with some fine tuning could be even greater songs. I do wish that possibly the sisters might each have their own solo at some point to explain their personal beliefs or how they feeling at success coming their way but that's just my opinion. This is a show that survives on the power of its score and that's not to slight the book which is strong on it's own. I just worry that the subject matter is so controversial that people will have a hard time getting past that to understand the message of the piece.

Two things that the audience will not have a hard time getting past is the performances of the two leading ladies. As sisters Eva and Eden actress Mackenzie Mauzy and Emily Padgett couldn't be more different then night and day. Eva (Mauzy) is the angry one leading her hate into the Nazi party and Eden (Padgett) is the sister who is the heart of the show trying to please her family without sharing their beliefs. They're great parts and the actresses tear into them with their powerhouse vocals and play off each other well. The only thing I would have liked to have seen more is some additional scenes or a song about the bond they have as sisters.

Overall this is a very intense show that has a lot to say and does it well. I'm not sure if they can get over the issue with how uncomfortably it can make an audience feel probably by building on the bond of the sisters, maybe defining the mothers stance, and punching up the humor and tightening the songs but overall there's a lot of potential in this piece and I hope that it makes it.

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