Music Review: Awesome and the Demands of Musical Theatre

Chamber vs. Chamber, vol 3

On Sunday night, stirring voices filled the Fireside Room at Seattle's Sorrento Hotel as some of this city's foremost practitioners of musical theatre showed a few different sides of tuneful dramatics.

Opening the evening were Nick Garrison and Sarah Rudinoff, two theatrical show boats who took turns wowing the crowd with a varied collection of show tunes highlighted by Rudinoff's take on the Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash collaboration "That's Him," from Weill's musical One Touch of Venus, and capped by a stunning duet by both performers on "The Origin of Love," from the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Next up was Awesome, the prog-folk septet that mounted a production titled West at On the Boards last month. That show was set on exploring the mythology of the West through performance and song, but it was no Annie Get Your Gun. Six-part harmonies and percussive instrumentals set the bulwark for delicate songs that, even when consisting of only a sole voice, resembled incantations more than the pop songs performed by Garrison and Rudinoff. These songs, paired with a set that consists largely of wooden crates in various formations, added up to a performance that forgoes narrative in favor of creating a sense of place — that place being isolated, filled with potential violence and relieved by sparks of humor and absurdity; a visceral adaptation of the West.

Read the full video and watch a video clip after the jump.

At the Sorrento, without that set, the challenging nature of the material dissolved some. In the comfort of such a warm room, the band played seven songs from the production, tiptoeing toward transcendence, but generally settling for charm. "Settling" might not be the right word, as Awesome is a band that seeks to entertain, connecting with its audience through an absurdity that is clearly as entertaining to the performers as it is to the audience.

In the full-scale production that parsed the grim realities of the wild west, this theatrical wink was embodied in hundreds of glow-in-the-dark super balls dropping from the ceiling onto a darkened stage. In the intimacy of the Sorrento, it found its expression in the subtle body language of performers and actual winks.

And here is where the worlds of Rudinoff, Garrison and Awesome collide, at the nexus of musical theatre where, above all else, an entertainer must entertain. 

High quality video from the performance will be posted in coming days. In the meantime, here is a rough recording of Awesome performing a song that was cut from the production of West.