The bass player’s hands are wracked with eczema. The lead singer belongs to a religion apparently designed for fourth-graders, and the guitarist wears a ridiculous moustache. And the drummer – lanky, wild-eyed and prone to sudden violence – sits on a pile of secrets so combustible they could reignite Chernobyl.
The gang from Landless Theatre Company annually graces the Fringe with its own brand of madness, but this year’s production is a departure from the norm. Generally, a Landless musical will involve, say, dead guys in a band and stuff like that. But Rock Bottom is a genuine story, along the lines of The Commitments or Almost Famous, supplemented with some kick-ass music.
It tells the story of Joey (Devin Gaither), the band’s young manager, who alone bears the terrible secret of Warner’s decision to cut Blood Orphan off; of Darlo (Greg Bowen, recently a memorable Frankenstein’s Monster in a Landless production), who pounds away at the drums as though he wished they were all human skulls and his snarling, hissing bandmates – Shane (Rob Bradley), whose pious self-involvement puts the unction in dysfunction; the sneering, snarky Bobby (Tom Jackson), and Adam (Marshall Stone), whose drooping moustache makes him about as cool as Wilford Brimley selling oatmeal. While they despise each other, when they sing – you may have guessed this already – they are a five-part (there is an uncredited keyboardist) explosion of joy, with harmonies that could teach the soul to dance.
by Andrew Lloyd Baughman and Michael Shilling
645 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
How does it all work? Pretty well, but I think the book could use some further development, and, on opening night, the actors (except for Jackson and a few others) were coming in a little late. Later productions will doubtlessly remedy this problem. The book is somewhat diffuse, with some loose ends. Bookwriter Andrew Baughman has a strong core to his story and writes some strong characters, but in creating side plots for each of his band members he ends up with events at the expense of dramatic impact. There is only so much story you can fit into a 75-minute musical.
But the singing! And the music! (Baughman with some additional material by Talia Segal and Michael Schilling). All the band members can sing and Stone in particular has a beautiful voice. The music was inventive, percussive, and relentlessly joyful – and, when contrasted with the misery that characterizes the band member’s lives, an argument for the triumph of art over reality. Of particular note was a duet between Stone and the impressive Talia Segal, who played Blood Orphan’s opening act and also Darlo’s mother.
So here’s the bottom line. Would I buy a ticket? Hell, yes. And once Baughman takes this baby out on a shakedown cruise and fine-tunes the story, I’d pay big bucks.