Well, we’re almost through the final days of the 5th Annual San Diego International Fringe Festival, and I’m ready for my latest update.
As always at the Fringe, some things were good, some not-so-good, some pretty great.
In the Great category (with a slight caveat) is “HIP HOP CAB-HOORAY” (see photo) presented and choreographed by Melissa Adao (an enthusiastic little fireball), featuring urban hip hop that’s energetic and energizing. In the first piece, ‘We Came to Dance,” dancers step forward and present text about dancing (written by Tasha Blank). Suffice to say that dancers should not be asked to speak in a fairly large theater, unless they’ve been coached in how to clearly articulate and project. The solo freestyle moves of the next piece or two were only fitfully exciting. But once the group choreography kicked in, the entire room (a full house at the Geoffrey) exploded with excitement. And it’s really cool when they take the dancing out onto the street (adding Fringe executive producer/director Kevin Charles Patterson to the mix!) while we watch the live video inside. Overall, the men are more individually talented than the women, and they get most of the freestyle focus, but in groups, Adao’s students at three local community colleges became a wonderful, unified whole, dancing with synchrony and precision. This exhilarating show is going on my list of Top Picks of the Fringe.
Other productions I’ve just seen:
Another San Diego group, under the banner of Quince Productions, is presenting a world premiere, “IN SECURITY, A MUSICAL,” a sendup of office politics (this would be a good companion piece to Canadian Ryan Gunther’s “Leash Your Potential”). As with the other musical I viewed, “NIGHT AND DAY,” it would be wonderful if all the singers in a small-cast musical could actually sing. This show, created by Michael Vegas Mussman (book and lyrics), with original music by Jordan Liberman, concerns a security company with a hacking breach (an inside job) that unearths the abuse of retirement funds. The FBI, a Russian hacker and a love story are also involved. Directed by Taberah Joy Holloway, the 45-minute piece is overly busy, with tables and chairs repeatedly being moved on and off the stage to little effect. Simpler is always better. Although the music can be tricky for some of the singers and the lyrics often put the emphasis on the wrong syllable so the words and phrases sound very unnatural, this is a valiant effort, and could be shaped and refined into something worthwhile.
“NIGHT AND DAY” is also an ambitious local undertaking. Writer/director Nick Williams grew up to the tunes of Joe Jackson, whose seminal, Grammy-nominated 1982 album, “Night and Day,” has been, he says, “longing to be made into a musical.” Williams created a story around the songs, in the manner of a jukebox musical, but without any dialogue. This might not have been the best choice, since the story sometimes got a little muddy. It”s all about a struggling musician with a hometown girlfriend and a male writing partner, who gets signed to a big record deal and a total stylistic makeover. When the partner follows him to New York, he realizes what his true values are, breaks up with the girlfriend, goes back to his singing roots, and lives happily ever after with his male writing partner. As noted above, not all the singers can sing, and not all the dancers can dance (choreography by Johnny Gaylord). But this is surely an elaborate effort.
Humor, as we know, if often in the eye of the beholder. I failed to behold the humor in “ARE YOU LOVIN’ IT?“, though people all around me were laughing their heads off. The Theatre Group GUMBO from Japan was a 2016 Fringe award-winner. But I just didn’t get it. Not only is their speech, with strong Japanese accents, incredibly difficult to understand (they often hold up signs to clarify), their brand of comedy (or clownishness, I guess) is too silly for me. There’s lots of potty humor (poop-hats, anyone?) and scathing takedowns of McDonald’s (here, WacDonald’s, with the M logo inverted, and plastered on oversized burgers and six-foot-tall fries) and Donald Trump (my only chuckle of the hour). And audience participation, of course (a mainstay at the Fringe this year). The trio is cute and sprightly, and the Japanese Businessman bit (a total stereotype in every way) is amusing. Maybe it’s your cup of comical tea; not mine.
I’ll be back with one more, final report on the Fringe, which ends this Sunday, July 2. There’s still plenty of time to see some comedy, music, dance and drama. A few shows were highly recommended to me: “73 Seconds,” “Underneath the Lintel,” “Eleanor’s Story” and “Out to Lunch. I’m trying to fit in as much as I can. And I’m already signed up for the immersive one-audience-member-at-a-time “Sweet Dreams” (from L.A.), which runs only this weekend.