Thomas Edison was really good at selling himself. Media attention and ruthlessness helped him claim sole credit for inventing the light bulb. In reality it was the work of many scientists.
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Energie: A Rock Musical takes jabs at the fact that those with the widest media reach and the most digestible talking points are usually the ones who get the public’s attention. When Nikolai Schulyer (Theodore Sapp), a theoretical physicist, discovers a way to create energy at no cost to the planet, Humphrey Repton (Jordan Best), a director of a physics institute, jumps at the opportunity to take partial credit for the discovery. Humphrey recruits Nikolai and calculatingly frames a story for his media contacts. He finds the narrative difficult to control, however, as Nikolai is unfiltered during interviews and reveals that he was able to make his discovery because he was listening to music.
Meanwhile, Larkin Rodgers (Christine Asero), one of Nikolai’s closest colleagues and friends, believes his discovery isn’t just the key to completely sustainable energy—it may also serve as a bridge between dimensions. This discovery is especially important to Larkin who, like her young friend Alan Pradkha (Neal Gallini-Burdick), has a rare condition that impedes her speech; she cannot form understandable sentences and can only speak in formulas and theories because she is living in two dimensions.
Mark Baughman, who wrote Energie’s book, music, and lyrics, brings sci-fi campiness and heartfelt characters to this classic-rock-styled musical. Using a musical genre is a smart choice, as music plays a pivotal role in Nikolai’s and Larkin’s discoveries.
Energie is sweetly hokey as it radiates a “good versus evil” vibe. One of my favorite numbers, “Thicker Than Blood,” is a catchy rendition of a villainous monologue sung by greedy heads of energy companies who try to silence Nikolai’s discovery.
The humor is balanced with heaps of heartfelt moments, many between Larkin and Alan. Because of their conditions, only they can understand each other, but they want desperately to be understood by others. Their struggle to communicate with loved ones parallels the struggles that people on the autism spectrum face. In fact, one of Baughman’s inspirations, he told DCTS, was a true story about his friend’s autistic son.
Energie: A Rock Musical closes July 27, 2019. Details and tickets
While most performers were standouts – Jordan Best is hilarious as Humphrey, consistently giving off the tone of “I’m up to something,” – some were stiff, coupling strained line deliveries with unpleasant singing. Baughman gives Alan’s physicist father a rock/hip-hop number “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” about scientific revelations. However, its effect was diminished by the performance of last-minute replacement Aubry Baden III who delivered it with pitchy vocals and didn’t convincingly hit its emotional beats.
And while Baughman’s music and lyrics are poetic, his book is clunky. For instance, Vijay’s physicist wife Alicia, played by Melanie Kurstin, refers to Vijay as her “Slumdog Millionaire” several times. These lines are part of a running gag that is more forced than witty. There are quite a few lackluster jokes sprinkled throughout the show, and many were met with silence from the audience I sat with. Baughman also wrote a surprise romance between two characters that feels jammed into the climax rather than neatly developed.
Energie, patchy as it may be, is worth catching for its music, story and standout performances, specifically those of Best and Kurstin whose singing is as stellar as their acting.
Energie: A Rock Musical by Mark Baughman. Directed by Christine Asero. Featuring Christine Asero, Aubrey Baden III, Jordan Best, Ian Charles, Neal Gallini-Burdick, Melanie Kurstin, Kenneth Lautz, Theodore Sapp, and Miranda Austin Tharp. Choreography: Pauline Lamb. Lighting design: Quoc M. Tran. Assistant director and stage manager: Monica Meinert. Presented at Capital Fringe 2019. Reviewed by Emily Priborkin.
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