Fledgling artists take note: Theatre Elision's zany theatrics and guerrilla social media strategy is changing the game in #tctheater
|Photo from Theatre Elision's website|
How do you write a review about a show described like this:
“Ghost Quartet” is a song cycle about love, death and whiskey from Dave Malloy, the Tony-nominated creator of the Broadway hit “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.” A camera breaks and four friends drink in an interwoven tale spanning seven centuries, with a murderous sister, a treehouse astronomer, a bear, a subway, and the ghost of Thelonious Monk. The story draws from several fairy tales and "ghost stories", including Snow White and Rose Red, Edgar Allen Poe's Fall of the House of Usher, and One Thousand and One Nights (commonly known as Arabian Nights). There may also be some Princess Zelda references you might recognize. Cast members present the story and music as a "concept album" and accompany themselves on keyboard, violin, ukulele, guitar, mandolin, and percussion. The audience may also be called upon for additional percussion and whiskey drinking.
There's literally no way to sum it up! There's literally no way it should work! Who even comes up with such a thing?
Turns out it's all Theatre Elision, and yes it works (swimmingly, in fact), and you'll leave this taut 90-minute performance happy but not entirely sure why. This fledgling theater company came banging straight out the gate for their first season last year and show no signs of slowing down. I'm so excited to see what they have up their sleeves for future productions, and I'm grateful that they are filling a niche we didn't even know we needed. There's no better time to check out their work than to see Ghost Quartet, showing at the North Garden Theater in St. Paul through November 3, and a perfectly strange way to celebrate Halloween this week.
I honestly can't improve on the summation they have above - Ghost Quartet is truly that unique and plotless, there just really isn't an easy narrative to describe it with - so instead, check out this ordered steam of consciousness list of related sounds / images / etc. that I wrote as they performed that the various songs reminded me of:
- Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera
- Pirates of Penzance / anything George Bernard Shaw
- Witchy / gypsy vibes a la Stevie Nicks
- Moulin Rouge??
- Prairie Home Companion (but only episodes without Garrison Keillor)
- Aladdin's "Arabian Nights"
- Baz Luhrmann-esque spectacle
- Sweeney Todd / Stephen Sondheim-meets-Tim Burton realness
- Robert Plant / Alison Krauss's masterful duet album Raising Sand
- Medieval madrigals
- Social media guru Gary Vaynerchuck's strategy moniker, aka take your audience on a journey with you (this relates to the fact that the musicians engage the audience in playing various percussion instruments along with them on more than one song)
- Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit
- Julie Taymore's Across the Universe
- Prince-meets-the B-52's "Rock Lobster" style
- Rufus Wainwright
- Chris Thile in the Nickel Creek days
I mean it when I say that the above is the best conglomeration I can think of to describe this weirdly witchy and atonal show. Ghost Quartet defies description but ends up being so much more than the sum of its parts. I'm not really a spooky / Halloween-y person, but something about this was just mystical enough that it worked for me. It helps that these musicians are just so damn talented - Kellen McMillen, Quinn Shadko, Tristen Sima and Christine Wade are shockingly good performers, and without their expert musicianship there's no way this could work. Shadko in particular is a vocal marvel. I've seen her in a few other things before, but never realized what incredible vocal dexterity she has - her ghostly vocals on "The Photograph" are truly next-level, and her articulate versatility overall reminded me of a velvety Bernadette Peters.
Theatre Elision produces taught, simple, eclectic pieces that always surprise me in how much I enjoy them. Their musical excellence is bar none, and it's fun to watch music nerds like the ones I grew up with have such a good time doing exactly what they clearly love (and were born) to do. The only drawback is their shows have pretty limited runs, so you'll have to work quickly to snag tickets. Ghost Quartet only runs through November 3, so make sure to click here to learn more and get in line before they are all snatched up - word on the street is their presale this year already outsold all of last year's run, and they've sold out at least one performance already. And make sure to tune in to Theatre Elision's bustling social media channels - they're on top of the online strategy game and there are lots of things we all can learn from their effective hustling.