Thursday, June 02, 2005

Yesterday, I caught The Busker's Opera directed by Robert Lepage and performed by Ex Machina. The Busker's Opera is an adaptation of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera which was also adapted by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill as The Threepenny Opera.

While the previous operas largely revolved around characters from the criminal underworld, Lepage's adaptation is a satire aimed at the music industry and its cutthroats. The entire show is done in song, with each song would be sung in a different style, for instance, ska, reggae, blues, jazz, even disco. The main character is Macheath, the lead singer of the Highwaymen, a ska group making a comeback, and the show revolves around his weakness for women and all the trouble this gets him into especially as he's surrounded by avarious industry producers.

And as with the traditional opera style, the lyrics of each song were broadcast on a screen on stage, which also served as a video of other goings on as well as a camera displaying the close-ups of the characters on stage. The lyrics were deliberately trite, like a normal conversation, such as "Our Polly is a sad slut" (delivered beautifully in a melodramatic operatic fashion) while some were downright hilarious, with lyrics in Hebrew and Arabic displayed in speech balloons at one stage when two characters were slagging each other off.

The interesting thing about the cast is that they all have some sort of musical talent. Most of them can play at least one musical instrument, and all of them (obviously) have to sing. Some are real-life buskers, some are actors learning to sing and some are singers learning to act. At first I thought that surely they must be faking it as no one can play or DJ that well. Then I realised that they really did have talent, because no one can fake it that well.

The funniest parts of the show were:
  • the New Orleans Republican Sheriff re-running for election, telling everyone to "Be afraid! Vote for me!" in an obvious parody of Bush
  • the performance by Diana von Trappes, the cabaret singer. ("I will quote music up to the legal limit!"
  • the scene in the Bayou Club by the swamp - whenever Lucy opened the door to the club, the musicians in the club would start playing lively music, whenever she exited, they'd stop abruptly. You had to see it. It was incredibly funny.
  • And of course, the Killer Doowop Burger Crew who served up Macheath's last meal, performing an incredibly good musical number with unusual items.
  • Not to forget the KDBC member wearing the Michael Jackson mask who, while pulling the meal cart out of the prison cell, moonwalked his way out of there.
Overall, although the music was good, the performers were dedicated and the whole show an innovative concept, I felt that there was something missing. The plot was rather disjointed and I could only count myself lucky that I arrived with sufficient time to read the programme before the show began, since that was the only way you'd have understood what was going on in the five acts of the show.

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