Monday, August 28, 2006

Air Guitar (Fringe '06 Experience #5)

UPDATE: Co-author Sean Williams writes in almost painstaking detail the problems he, Mac and Jordanna had in putting on the show.

I have to say I couldn't disagree with Martin Denton more about Air Guitar, particularly his assessment of Jeff Hiller's portrayal of Ulrich.

I can't say I'm surprised, though. On Saturday, Several Nosedivians went to the Harry de Jur Playhouse to see the new rock musical written by Nervous Boy himself (Mac Rogers) and Sean & Jordanna Williams and directed by Stephen Wargo. We took up a row, and Mr. Denton sat nearby. The bulk of us bobbed up and down with glee, giggling and clapping throughout, while I noticed that Mr. Denton didn't look like he was having a particularly fun time.

It's too bad, since Air Guitar is very much a fun time.

(I should add that, considering I was horrifically hung over and not exactly thrilled to be not only awake, but out and about by 1 p.m. on a Saturday, me enjoying myself is a real testament to the show.)

I was fortunate enough to see the show when the crew was able to fix the problems with its sound system (reports — from Mac himself — indicate that the sound on opening night was an absolute mess, with microphones not working and lyrics being completely drowned out by the band). Sure, there were still some mic snafus (particularly with the opening song), but for the most part I could hear the singers pretty clearly.

Air Guitar is about a guitarist named Drew (Stephen Graybill) who is pretty much at the end of his guitar-playing career. Seven years ago he had a band, now he just plays guitar to the same 12 bored "fans" (one of them being his wife, the other his roommate) every Sunday. With his musical career going nowhere and his marriage falling apart, Drew enters the world of competitive air guitar playing (yes, air guitar playing), and is dismayed to find himself achieving a success from not playing an instrument that eluded him when he was.

The Gods of Fire, a real heavy metal band, provided the live onstage music for Air Guitar.

I will say right off the bat that regrettably, the female performers — Becca Ayers as Drew's wife Celeste (from Avenue Q) and Renee Delio as Drew's air guitar rival (from Hail Satan) — were not quite up to snuff. I don't know if it was because the show was a Saturday matinee or what, but neither one of them seemed to want to be there.

Despite this, a few performers really stood out in the show, such as Michael Poigand, who played Drew's best friend Steve, once his fellow band mate and now (almost) a doctor, who ended up getting most of the show's best lines. Clayton Dean Smith, who played Jammin' Bread, the judge and promoter of the Air Guitar competitions, also showed that he has some game (particularly with that heavy metal vocal squealing).

But it was Jeff Hiller who really stole the show as Ulrich, the reigning champion of Air Guitarists working as both Drew's imaginary source of self-doubt and driving force. Wearing a wig of locks reminiscent of glam-metal band frontmen, torn jeans and a leather vest, every time he showed up on stage (or up in the balcony, giving Drew warnings about entering the competition), I was laughing (as were the rest of the Nosedivians). Mr. Hiller has amazing comedic stage presence as well as remarkable improvisational skills.

Mac, Sean and Jordanna could have easily written a musical to cash in on the tremendous success and acclaim they garnered with their last Fringe show, Fleet Week. But instead of writing Fleet Week 2: Shore Leave In Vegas, they created something equally as ambitious yet not nearly as commercially viable (musicals about gay sailors have much more of a built-in audience than musicals about people who play air guitar), which is commendable.

I do hope they make a habit of making annual musicals for the Fringe, even if Mac has made noise about Air Guitar not being nearly as fun to create as Fleet Week. Again, it's unfortunate that neither Mac nor Martin Denton seemed to have much fun with Air Guitar, 'cause I — as well as the folks at Nosedive Central — had an absolute blast.

Rockin' with nothing,

James "Air Blogger" Comtois


Blogger Joshua James said...

I disagreed with Martin's review of MOTHER COURAGE as well, though Martin is such a nice guy, a fella feels bad for disagreeing with him on anything.

But what can we say? this is what we do, parse the work, and we must stay true to what drives us.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

He is (and you'll see from my next entry/my last email to you, I'm of course quite grateful to him). And I basically could tell Martin wasn't enjoying himself, which was too bad. I just think it was obvious that the Nosedivians and I were having as much fun as Martin wasn't.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Mac said...

As one of the guys behind Air Guitar, I can say that we are grateful to Martin for coming out, and if the show has a future incarnation his thoughts will be among those we take into consideration in our revision process.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Mike Mariano said...

Ooh, ooh; Mac, take my thoughts into consideration, too!

One of the most obnoxious things about Drew is that it takes nearly the entire play for him to budge from his low opinion of air guitar. It might be better to have him start to like air guitar---and then regret it. Maybe the struggling guitar player who used to come on before him has made it big---"legitimately"---and Drew can again hate himself for selling out. Maybe this other singer-songwriter is a revamp of the Danielle character. Maybe you guys just need a whole lot more Tracy Chapman in your show.

Ooh, ooh! Let me ruin your show by making you put a lot of Tracy Chapman into a heavy metal-themed musical!

10:49 PM  
Anonymous Mac said...

I want to kiss Mike Mariano on the lips.

(Or is it Dean Hurley I want to kiss on the lips...?)

Yeah, the Drew character's arc most certainly needs some medical attention. I'll paste along your feedback to my co-Gs.

2:04 PM  

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