Obviously, this is a work in progress -- and I have limited experience with posting cool links or video -- but during 2009 we will hopefully be updating you on all things Factory (right now, my personal goal is to post a blog on successive days). Not only that, we'll be doing so in a snarky, Twitteresque way that screams We're Cooler Than You. I'm excited...so let's dive in with the inaugural Factory blog!
Since everyone and their brother seems to be a critic these days thanks to the Internet, I thought I would jump in and write a theater review of my own. So here, for your consumption, is a review of the Factory Theater's first show of 2009, called Mop Top Festival.
On the surface, Mop Top Festival is about a Beatles convention and a character study of the people who spend gobs of money to attend them. But at its core, the show is a joyous, loving celebration of the greatest band of all time. Writer and director Scott OKen wisely keeps that fact in mind throughout the entire production, and his love for the Beatles shows through at nearly every turn. OKen has effectively communicated that love to his cast of 20, which is a gigantic accomplishment in and of itself. One need look no further than Christine Jennings' outlandishly grounded turn as the personal space-invading but ultimate Beatles fan for proof.
If you are a casual Beatles fan, Mop Top Festival will make you want to become a serious fan. If you are a serious fan, Mop Top Festival will make you want to revisit your entire musical catalogue -- both Beatles and solo recordings. And if you are a Beatles purist (as opposed to a Beatles dork or a Beatles freak), the constant references to lyrics, movie lines and trivia will delight at every turn, and you will remember what attracted you to the Fab Four's music in the first place.
And if you don't like the Beatles, isn't it time to re-evaluate your life? Why would you reject music that basically celebrates love and happiness?
But enough about your shortcomings. The Factory has long worn its love for music and pop culture on its collective sleeve, whether it's Bob Dylan (The Lonesome Hoboes), breakdancing (Poppin' & Lockdown 1 and 2), or Abba (1996's ABBArama, a gigantic hit which predated "Mamma Mia" by at least two years). And while some have found such proclamations of worship annoying, what makes these shows great is that they include the audience.
SIDE NOTE ABOUT "ABBArama": That show was HUGE. Literally, they were waiting in line to get in. It was standing room only at the Factory for about four months straight while that show was going, and it could probably still be running today had we wanted it to. According to Wikipedia: "Since its opening in 1999, "Mamma Mia" has grossed about $2 billion worldwide." I will now go light myself on fire.
OK, back to Mop Top. This show continues in the grand Factory tradition of not talking down to or excluding the audience from its influences and objects of worship. It concerns several different story lines that interweave Robert Altman-like throughout the show. The performances are all terrific -- from Edward Fraim's performance as a John Lennon "lookalike" to Shannon O'Neill's hilarious send-up of a harried hotel clerk to Christopher Marcum's tour de force as the evil hotel manager, Tompkins. I single these people out just off the top of my head (is that how Kris Vire operates, I wonder?).
Truly, everyone is terrific in Mop Top and everyone has their moments. And for a cast of 20, that's a heck of an accomplishment.
But more than most shows, the performances and script itself really sublimate itself to the power of the Beatles' music. The cast sing-along of one of the Beatles' lesser known songs "Sexy Sadie" (because it's on Disc 2 of the White Album) is a real tribute to the music -- one that consistently raises the goosebumps -- and I've seen Mop Top four times already.
See Mop Top Festival -- a splendid time is guaranteed for all.