If a band lets a song drop in the city, and no one hears it, does it make a sound? Arlo and Donovan aren’t so sure. Their rock outfit, Little Justice, is all heart and no following. So these two best buddies do what any resourceful young professionals might do in an economy like this one. They kidnap a record label executive, toss him in a cage in his underwear, and play him their newest LP. So go the shenanigans of Please Listen, Open Drawer Theatre Company’s rambunctious and effortlessly funny new musical.
It’s no small feat to craft something solid out of a diverse cast of thirteen, a live band, and a shamelessly goofy script, but director Cory Ryan Frank keeps a firm hand on the wheel, and all on stage follow through with admirable zeal.
Aaron Bliden and Mark Halpern rock out in the lead roles (they also wrote and composed the show). Assisted live by Zach Michel on bass and Anders Eliasson on drums (both gifted musicians), Bliden and Halpern sing and play on keyboard, ukulele, tambourine, and a variety of electric and acoustic guitars in their quest to impress Rick, their bewildered corporate captive (Matthew A. Anderson). “You will drop dead from my mastery of storytelling!” sing the boys in the opening song. Cruel and unusual for Rick. Juicy fun for the rest of us.
The demented duo’s magnum opus is a concept album called “Overwhelming Stimulus,” which tells of a dystopian robot invasion, the subsequent agrarian uprisings (this is America, after all) and an uneasy truce between people of metal and people of flesh. Throughout this bizarre fable, the ensemble shines, belting out their solos with gusto, making scripted lines sound like ad-lib, and somehow managing to keep the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent stage from seeming crowded – a small miracle in itself.
The diverse, catchy songs channel folk, punk, hip-hop (a la Beastie Boys), as well as some quirky alternative strumming reminiscent of Flight of the Conchords – a New Zealand act that has helped pave the way for comedy/music mash-up shows like this one.
A sense of childish glee pervades Please Listen, as if the show were born spontaneously from a game of make-believe among elementary schoolers. Arlo and Donovan are dressed in pajamas for the length of the show. Vivid splashes of red, blue and green flood the space. Heather Lockard’s whimsical costumes enhance the youthful rush of color.
Some elements of the show are familiar bordering on rote. The idea to put the band in funny hats from time to time doesn’t feel borrowed so much as assumed. And a subplot about star-crossed lovers (she’s human; he’s a robot) offers little in the realm of exciting drama, although actors Kate Brobst and Noah Alexander Langer make elegant work of it.
By the end of it all, Rick has tumbled out of the cage and headlong into the plot (giving Anderson a chance to work his comic chops) and composers Bliden and Halpern have demonstrated their substantial abilities in crafting hooks and harmonies.
The songs are original. The talent is fresh. The laughs are contagious. Come out to the Baldacchino tent, grab a drink, get comfy, and listen. Please.
Note: I have worked professionally with Cory Ryan Frank, the director of Please Listen. This has not affected the objectivity of my review.