Review by TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDERJune 17, 2015
My overall impression
Attending one of the many entries presented each June as part of Fringe is something of a roll of the dice, especially when the production is an original musical mounted utilizing only the limited bells and whistles available in a small black box space in the Complex. There were many red flags surrounding the premiere of Ben Boquist’s SONGS OF THE FALL, not the least of which is that it was touted as a “pop/rock musical with a fresh and controversial take on the Adam and Eve myth,” promising to explore themes of race, gender, addiction, and even reincarnation by asking “what really happened in the Garden of Eden.” Sounds like something that might make some of us who consider ourselves challenged by sappy musical theater offerings, not to mention scoffers of the theory of creation, run for the exits. The saving grace for some of us might be in the use the term “myth” to describe the show.
Without a doubt, SONGS OF THE FALL is truly a diamond in the rough—or in the case, in the Ruby (Theatre). Boquist’s book is charming and the show’s premise, as it zips back and forth in time between Eden and present-day New York, is inventive enough, as is his sweetly sincere performance as the generally clueless Adam. Still, what indeed is remarkable about this quietly auspicious introduction to his talents is the score. Judging from the song titles listed in the program, expectations could easily initially be met with skepticism and a few eye-rolls, but Boquist’s compositions are impressively sophisticated and memorably lyrical, especially with the inclusion of Robert Rues’ complicated arrangements to make them even richer.
Under the leadership of director Whittney Rooks, there’s something delightful in the wide-eyed wonder of Boquist’s footie-pajama-ed Adam and Unati Mangaliso’s equally comfy Eve, though his character emerges as the planet’s first doofus boyfriend and hers as the first whiny, nagging woman, the pair sometimes giving off the air of a couple arguing about the cost vs. cleaning power of some laundry detergent in a TV commercial.
John Eddings as the wisely elderly Grey, Cody Hays as the crossdressing Prime, and the barely teenaged Aurora Blue as Cate, are all part of one depiction of God, here called The We and living as homeless people on the street of New York. All performers, including the miscast Leanna Rachel as a Lucifer, someone who has to work way too hard to get to evil, are infectiously earnest and sincere, although the singing expertise exhibited proves to be somewhat uneven. The true breakthrough performance here is the pre-pubescent Blue, who knocks her songs and her performance way out into the continuous traffic of Santa Monica Boulevard.
Like so many writers offering their work for the first time in such a discerning public forum, it seems everything Boquist has ever wanted to say, as well as every tune he ever was proud to have composed, are included in this one outing. The two-act, two-plus-hour SONGS should be pared down considerably, perhaps to a quicker-paced 80 or 90 minute presentation sans intermission. As is, in this first time out for Boquist, the work begins to drag as both the storyline and the music get a tad repetitious. Above all small druthers, however, one thing is crystal clear: this garden-fresh (pardon me) new kid on the block is an amazing composer, and his SONGS OF THE FALL heralds a promising introduction to someone who, in a fairer world than ours sometimes, could someday be recognized as a formidable contributor to the artform.