Blindspot Collective in Collaboration with Coronado Playhouse Introduce the Music of Ben Folds to New Audiences in the World Premiere of

Underground. An immersive Musical Mashup 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Amanda Blair and Dakota Ringer. Photo by Ken Jacques 

And yes, I am part of the new audience dear reader, as Ben Folds and his former band Ben Folds Five represent a new world to me. As mentioned before, I love when theatre teaches me about popular icons. In this case, Blindspot Collective in collaboration with Coronado Playhouse brings the world premiere of an immersive mashup inspired by the discography of Ben Folds, which is a very nineties sound or what the kids today would consider an oldie or vintage. Aside from this making me want to cry and feel ancient, it is cool to see the story behind Underground, as Blindspot had workshopped it in 2016. The space which usually has a ballroom/cabaret seating style with tables of four has been transformed into a bar where a beer pong table lies in the middle, and the actors are all around the space whether it is making drinks (yes, you can purchase a drink at the bar and they will make it/pour it for you), playing beer pong, or watching their high school football game which is part of the different storylines presented in the show like with the song Effington. The musical was conceived by Amy Cordileone, Donnie Tuel, and Rachel Tuggle Whorton with the book by Blidspot's Executive Artistic Director, Blake McCarty. Blake made the songs flow in different storylines and mesh with the space. And even though the songs are not related between them, the performance made sense musically and histrionically.

Underground has a hefty cast with 13 actors and one swing. Featuring Amanda Blair, Hannah Bosworth, Kevin Bradel, Hunter Brown, Sam Castillo, Hero Cordileone, Lu Garcia, Shane Hennessey, Joe Kao, Georgia Ladd, D. Mckenna, Dakota Ringer, Jerry Rodriguez, Sarah Jane Salonga, Dacara Seward, and Marisa Taylor Scott. They all imprint such life and vibrancy to each song that you cannot take your eyes off any of them. As much as one could because the seating is complex, as you have to turn around 360 constantly in order to catch everything. There are tables onstage and off. I would recommend sitting either onstage or in the back corners to get everything and not be turning around so much. On the positive side, if you go with friends and sit at a table, there is a chance to discuss and play around with and/or along the performance and, if you are sitting at your table with people you do not know, there is a bonding through theatre which is always great. 
The set for Undergorund. Photo by Ken Jacques 

Creating lighting and sound for these types of venues is no easy task as there are practically no levels and it is mostly on one floor which is tricky for depth or resonance. Caroline Andrew did an amazing job with the lighting design highlighting each of the stories and letting the audience know when and where to turn, also hanging decorative lights from the ceiling which gave it that divey touch. Cole Atencio with sound made Ben Folds's songs -which are valuable and memorable to many-, pass through wonderfully in every one of the actors' voices. 

Each song is practically an introduction to a couple's storyline. There are the bar staffers who have an unconfessed love, others who are not on the best of speaking terms, a couple who faces betrayal, and others with different types of losses having to make difficult decisions. The musical is almost 2 hours and 30 minutes long including a 15-minute intermission, that goes by pretty quickly and it is easy to follow. There is a live band playing onstage with the following members that were fantastic: Conductor/Piano & Violin: Michael Tyree; Accordion, Autoharp & Keys, Joe; KaoGuitar, Tina Chin; Bass, Edward LaBarbera; and Percussion, Michael Masessa. Having live music during a performance in San Diego is becoming a luxury, so when that happens, applause-applause as well as having more gratitude for the moment and the work.

The cast of Underground. Photo by Ken Jacques 
Jacob Sampson's scenic design was not just a dive bar with chairs, tables, and trinkets here and there. The room all around its walls has super cool posters of bands that were huge in the nineties like No Doubt, Weezer, and Aerosmith amongst many others, accompanied by big screens that were projecting the game, just like your nearest dive bar, and a brick wall because brick and dive go hand in hand usually. There is great attention to detail in the design and the posters look original. At my table, there were a couple of moments of nostalgia talking about the posters and scouting to see which band had made it to the wall. How do you dress bartenders and people inside a bar without it looking ordinary? Tammy Molenaar did a costume design with the bar's t-shirt as a base for the bartenders. The women bartenders had their own touch on the t-shirt, be it cropped or cuffed, and the men either plain or without sleeves, which also made a good selling point for merch. Aside from the grungy nineties flair with the flannels, jeans overalls, and booty shorts, there were a pair of pants amongst the cast that had happy and sad faces and, I wanted to take home with me. The design was original and made each personality stand out in their moment. Amy Cordileone tackled the task of directing this large cast to move all around the space, in between the tables, and interacting with the audience to run smoothly and flow. Sometimes, those dynamics are forced and feel fake. Not the case with Underground as it was a nice, fun time out at the bar, meeting new friends. 

This is definitely an original in all ways: music, space, and how it was figured out from paper to reality. It is proof that San Diego has much to offer in different and creative ways. We need to continue to support these efforts so our local performing arts can continue to thrive.

Speaking of thriving, Underground was extended and is now playing until July 30th. For more information on performance dates and times please click HERE.

No comments:

Post a Comment