Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Theatre Elision Ends Season on a High Note with Ain't It A Grand and Glorious Feeling

This is such an exciting time to be an artist. 

But that pie though... I still dream about it, and I'm not even a dessert person! 

Thanks to the power of the internet, social media and crowdfunding, artists are more empowered than ever to really flex their creative muscles, and how lucky are all of we to enjoy it? From Donald Glover to Mindy Kaling, there are so many examples right now of artists who are augmenting their creative crossover using new technologies and tools to truly maximize their impact, and it's a blast to watch. 

Theatre Elision is a homegrown success story of just such a thing that I'm thrilled to talk about. Founded by a cadre of smart, driven young women, Theatre Elision is filling a gap that I didn't even know #tctheater had, but has been fascinating to explore. The company produces and / or reimagines long lost theater classics (their sweet spot seems to lie in the ragtime era, but they do branch out) with a simple eye but powerful musical chops. Their first piece (and an original!) was Ragtime Women (click here to read my review) last year; they've now come full circle with the delightful Ain't It A Grand and Glorious Feeling to close out their 2017 - 2018 season. 

Ain't It A Grand and Glorious Feeling takes several classic pieces from the "Princess Musicals." Do not, like me, assume that these are related to Disney princesses (although I still think that could be a cool show); instead, these are so-named because they were originally performed at the Princess Theatre in New York City in the years between 1915 and 1918. The content is the typical lighthearted romantic comedy you might see in a summer blockbuster or Rogers & Hammerstein musical, just with a softer touch. 

What I greatly appreciated about this particular show was that it has been completely repackaged from the original without losing its integrity. Taking their preferred songs from several different Princess Musicals, the writers have made a new musical that feels shockingly modern considering the style of the music. This is aided by the truly witty production staging, by which I mean: there really isn't any staging at all, and it totally works. Ain't It A Grand and Glorious Feeling is set in the Mojo Coffee Gallery (which serves a delightful meal - complete with some bombdiggity apple pie pictured above - prior to the show. I HIGHLY recommend choosing this option with your ticket), a choice that initially confused me but later felt like a brilliant strategy. 

Rather than perform for us, the performers ARE us, sitting at coffee shop tables, weaving amongst the crowd, and making their relational drama feel familiar and personal. It keeps you constantly on your toes, allows the actors to be really comfortable and engaged, and when paired with the hilarious text message screenshots projected on the coffee house television provides a really witty and contemporary performance that I found just delightful. The performers also work hard to keep things moving, clicking through 21 songs and associated plot lines in less than 90 minutes - a feat that I desperately wish they'd train other theaters in accomplishing. This is definitely a workshop in learning-best-practices-from-Michelle-Hensley, and I thoroughly approve. 

One of the things that's always impressed me about Theatre Elision is the strikingly deep vocal talent they showcase. These are not pop songs that anyone can autotune their way through, and despite the accompaniment of a sole piano they can be deceptively complex. Each of the four performers in Ain't It A Grand and Glorious Feeling has a knockout voice that is the centerpiece of the show (as it should be). With such a barebones production it's important that the music be excellent, and it really, truly is. Standouts for me included "Ain't It A Grand and Glorious Feeling" to open the show; a very nuanced rendition of "The Sun Shines Brighter;" the virtuosic closing of "Wedding Bells Are Calling Me;" and the delightfully tongue-in-cheek "It's A Hard, Hard, Hard World for a Man" that ends with a spontaneous tap dance that had the audience bursting into simultaneously spontaneous applause. I think these spunky artists can sell just about anyone on these 100 year old songs, and I dare you to see the show and not be impressed. 

It's so heartening to see that there really is room for all kinds of art. The bright young artists of Theatre Elision are hustling hard to make their dreams come true, and it's really inspiring to see how far they've come in just one year. I can only imagine what lies in store for future seasons, and I would really encourage any readers to go support their work. Starting a new company is never easy, but if the last season is any sign, there's nowhere to go but up. There is only one more weekend to see Ain't It A Grand and Glorious Feeling, so make sure to get your tickets prior to the last performance on June 10 (and seriously get the food - it's so worth it, and the chef is so charming!). For more information or to buy tickets, click on this link

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