“US” Stage Script Reading @ The Neighborhood Playhouse (6/16/2009)

Logo - Us

Followers of the PiercingMetal Musings Blog might recall an article that we did for the Stage Script Reading of a new play called “Allies: The Musical” several months ago. The show featured the music of the band Heart and having loved their stuff for many years I was interested in seeing just how it would be used within the context of a play aimed at Broadway. It was also the chance to bring a little bit of difference to our day so we could not resist partaking in it. That play was written by both Celina Carvajal and Maggie Levin and we truly had a good time and look forward to seeing something come of the project very soon. Interested readers can examine that overview by clicking HERE. After the reading we made sure to stay in contact with the creators and that brings us to this new article about their latest adventure – a play entitled “US”. This time around the reading that was being done would feature the music of the legendary Progressive Music icon Peter Gabriel who many fondly remember from the early days of Genesis along with a truly prolific solo career. When it came to “Allies” I was able to easily see how that bands music worked within a love story, but I had to admit some curiosity about how the music of such a Prog-Rock giant would work along similar lines. Today’s reading would be held at The Neighborhood Playhouse down on 53rd Street and 2nd Avenue NYC. Kindly set your cell phones to vibrate for the duration of this blog musing as the show commentary is set to begin.

Welcome to the Neighborhood Playhouse

Welcome to the Neighborhood PlayhouseThe play was introduced by Maggie F. Levin who conceived, wrote and directed the storyline that we were about to be treated to. She outlined how excited she was about this particular play and its use of the wonderful music of Peter Gabriel. Of course, a stage reading is a bare bones thing where the actors are not in costume and instead stand in one spot reading their lines while stage direction is handled by another party. Maggie told us that the story also takes place in a bit of a fantasy world where there are all sorts of vivid Circe du Soleil types of characters present and inter mingling with the cast as their story unfolds so one had to let their imagination run wild while we watched and listened.  Stage readings are interesting to be a part of because there is a very simple set up with chairs for the actors to sit in until their part requires them to be at the microphone reading their lines from the script.  There are no costumes to speak of and the stage directions are read off by another party.  In our case we had Emma Canalese handling this task.  Having only been to two of these things so far, I am not sure if the musical accompaniment is par for the course, but was happy to report that for this reading we would have the presence of a full band.

Miss Maggie F. Levin
Miss Maggie F. Levin

About the Reading: “US” tells the story of a house and family divided by the bitter sting of divorce and how the principal characters are dealing with it. It’s a very common story these days and that will allow the play to make sense to so many people. The opening number was “Talk To Me” and it was sung to perfection by Bryce Ryness who did such a great job of emulating Peter Gabriel’s tone and inflection that if he ever comes to front a classic Genesis tribute act I will try to be one of the first in the door. Bryce plays the part of the Father figure of the story, Hunter Jace. His daughter Brooke Jace is a rebellious and volatile young lady played by Celina Carvajal. Ms. Carvajal gets the most stage time it seems as she deals with both sides of her now split mother and father and frequently interacts with her equally wild friends.

Bryce Ryness & Celina Carvajal
Bryce Ryness & Celina Carvajal
Celina Carvajal, Kevin Massey, Jason Tam, Anthony Stafford, ??? & Helen Highfield
Celina Carvajal, Kevin Massey, Jason Tam, Anthony Stanford, ??? & Helen Highfield

There is romance and some slight jealousy as Brooke juggles her life between her friends and with her Mother and Father, who both seem to still have some unresolved love for one another that must be addressed and through it all the music of Peter Gabriel comes to vivid life as the cast delivers not only classics like “Solsbury Hill” and “Shock The Monkey” but also tunes that often are left out of greatest hits compilations like “Digging In The Dirt” and “Growing Up”. The choruses are big and powerful care of the presence of a large company of singers behind them and I must say that I had a little difficulty not singing aloud myself as the show went on. Lucky for everyone around me, I managed to control myself. “Hill” was sung by Anthony Stanford who did a really fine job of it and I believe he was accompanied by Kevin Tam (Zephyr) every now and again. It’s always been one of my favorite Gabriel songs when I review his catalog in my mind.  I also was greatly admiring the voice of Celina Carvajal who seems to be able to belt them out of the park in terms of vocal power and also sing on the softer side when she needs to.  It’s great to see just how well a female vocal can work within the framework of a male voice penned tune.

Celina Carvajal & Kevin Massey
Celina Carvajal & Kevin Massey
Celina Carvajal & Kevin Massey
Celina Carvajal & Kevin Massey

The wild rebellious nature of Brooke and her living life on the apparent edge friends comes to a screeching halt as tragedy strikes the group and it is one that will change them forever going forward and how they deal with one another. I’ll not be disclosing what actually happens but can tell you that the end result is not something easily recovered from when this happens to a circle of friends. We find some bonds becoming tighter and stronger while others weaken and falter into nothing. Brooke does her best to stay strong and find her own focus as life goes on with the friends and family into another day. A rousing finish closes out the show as the Gabriel track “In Your Eyes” is delivered to perfection and sung by the entire cast and company. I can envision people dancing in the aisles for this one in some sense or at least be on their feet as they join in with the cast. It was a very interesting show to say the least and all involved surely did a stand up job at executing the story and its music.

Wide Cast Shot
Wide Cast Shot
Jason Tam, Kevin Massey, Celina Carvajal
Jason Tam, Kevin Massey, Celina Carvajal

My Thoughts on It: Given the premise I had to say that the storyline will definitely reach a wider audience demographic based on this being a story that we hear far too often in our society. The characters and their dealings with one another were very believable and their acting was sincere and made sense at the end of the play. Musically, I felt that the group was on point without question and their delivery of the Gabriel catalog made me put on my own “Shaking The Tree” Greatest Hits CD when I got home since the songs were running so vividly in my head. I felt that “US” as a musical worked a little better for me than “Allies” did and I mean no offense to that show at all, but I do think this premise works better over the other one. I really hope that Ms. Levin and her wonderful company of players are able to bring this to the stage in a bigger and brighter light with the costumes and larger musical life. Good luck on this one, you really did a fantastic job.

Ms. Levin was gracious enough to line out the entire list of numbers performed and upped the game by informing the readers about which Peter Gabriel albums that the songs came from in the first place. Thanks very much Maggie. You rock and kudos for offering up such a fine selection of songs for the storyline.

Act I:
1. Come Talk to Me (from the US album)
2. On the Air (from Peter Gabriel 2)
3. Blood of Eden (US)
4. Kiss That Frog (US)
5. Shock the Monkey (Security)
6. Solsbury Hill (Peter Gabriel 1)
7. Digging in the Dirt (US)
8. Growing Up (Up)

Act II:
1. Sledgehammer (So)
2. I Don’t Remember (Peter Gabriel 3)
3. Excuse Me (Peter Gabriel 1)
4. Lay Your Hands on Me (Security)
5. Secret World (US)
6. Signal to Noise (Up)
7. In Your Eyes (So)

"Us" Program Signed by Cast, Creators, & Band
Cast Signed “US” Program

I felt that the wonderful cast of players and musicians were so good that it led me to asking them all to sign the shows program that we were handed as we walked into the reading and they graciously obliged me in my request.  I felt that it looked nice enough in person that I would share with you all in this article.  Thanks again my friends, and dare I say “Break A Leg”?.

The Cast: Bryce Ryness (Hunter Jace), Celina Carvajal (Brooke Jace), Robin Skye (Mesa Jace), Jason Tam (Zephyr), Kevin Massey (Drew), Helen Highfield (Helen), Anthony Stanford (Anthony)

Robin Skye, Bryce Ryness, Celina Carvajal, Jason Tam
Robin Skye, Bryce Ryness, Celina Carvajal, Jason Tam

The Company: Dylan Bandy, Danielle Bensky, Ryan Bogner, Kai Chapman, Bryce Hodgson, Megan Neale, Laua Sessoms, Lauren Schacher, David Rubin.  Emma Canalese (stage direction).

Much of The Company
Much of The Company

The Band: Debra Barsha (keys/conductor), John Clancy (drums), John Roggie (keys, programming), Winston Roye (bass), Thad Debrock (guitars).  I had to say that I really enjoyed how well the band executed all of the songs with ease.  Everyone who was handling the music was in perfect synch with one another and working together for the enjoyment of the audience.

To see an extended gallery of photos from the reading click the link below:
More “Us” Reading Pics

To follow the adventures of the Real Theatre Company check out their MySpace Page via the link below:

Real Theater Company on MySpace

After the reading Peter and I took some time speaking with the members of the cast and its creators and snapping some candids of everyone that we could.  Some of these are posted below for your visual entertainment.

Maggie Levin & Ken Pierce
Maggie Levin & Ken Pierce
Celina Carvajal (Brooke Jace) & Ken Pierce
Celina Carvajal (Brooke Jace) & Ken Pierce
Femme Fatale's Maggie Levin & Celina Carvajal
Femme Fatale’s Maggie Levin & Celina Carvajal

Remember these smiles ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at stars in the making without a doubt.  Of course the lovely ladies above know me best and most from my work within the Metal community and as result we could not resist doing the ever requisite “Metal Horns” shots.

Maggie Levin & Ken Pierce Indulging the Metal Side
Maggie Levin & Ken Pierce Indulging the Metal Side
Celina Carvajal & Ken Pierce's Homage to Dio
Celina Carvajal & Ken Pierce’s Homage to Dio

Carvajal is a tried and true Rocker when it comes down to it and brings that side of her interest to life as the lead singer Coco Caine for the group that is called “Cocaine – The Band”.  It’s really fun and rocking stuff and Coco is a Rock Goddess that is second to none.  Check out some of our articles on that project by clicking here and here.

Maggie Levin, Tony Levin, Debra Barsha, John Clancy & Larry Fast
Maggie Levin, Tony Levin, Debra Barsha, John Clancy & Larry Fast

This great shot captures the lovely Maggie Levin and her Dad Tony (you might already know him from this band they call King Crimson) along with Debra Barsha (keys) and John Clancy (drums).  Closing out the shot is Mr. Larry Fast (Synergy) who also performed with Peter Gabriel and Tony Levin in a number of projects.

John Clancy, Tony Levin, Winston Roye & Thad Debrock
John Clancy, Tony Levin, Winston Roye & Thad Debrock

Mr. Tony Levin makes a couple of guys in the bands day by striking a pose for a shot with them.  I’m sure that a lot of shop talk happened after this one and could you blame the guys for getting some insight from the master?  I know I would do the same thing if I had the chance.

Ken Pierce, Ms. Maggie Levin, Mr. Tony Levin
Ken Pierce, Ms. Maggie Levin, Mr. Tony Levin
Showbiz Flair with the Levins
Showbiz Flair with the Levins

A couple of great shots with the Levins as a close out to a wonderful day of theatre and fine music.  The very Steve Ditko-esque pose we employed is our visual way of saying “That’s All Folks”.  I really hope that this play comes to theatres near us as it will be a sure fire hit considering how well Rock music is being recieved in show such as “Rock Of Ages” and “Mama Mia”.  Keep us posted on this one Maggie, I have a feeling it’s going to be big.  Hopefully you enjoyed our commentary.

Official Website:
The Real Theatre Company: http://realtheatrecompany.com/
The Neighborhood Playhouse: http://neighborhoodplayhouse.org/

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