24 July 2014

Theatre Thursday: WikiMusical the RPG

 Oh, hi guys. I guess it's time for [apparently] my yearly blog post or something. So, here it goes:

     I went to my first New York Musical Theatre Festival show on Tuesday: WikiMusical. Unfortunately, it's likely to be the only one that I'll make it to this year because... well, frankly, I didn't realize when NYMF started and thus didn't buy any tickets. Anyway, one of my girlfriend's classmates is an acquaintance of one the show's librettists and was able to get us some tickets. Rather, to be more specific, he got some tickets and convinced the librettist to give my girlfriend tickets in order to write a review about it. I just want to point out that my girlfriend is a science writer interning at IEEE Spectrum, an engineering and tech magazine, right now, so we were both a bit confused. Her boss liked the idea of there being some kind of coverage about it on the website, though (you can find it here).
     Tickets in hand, we arrived at the Pearl Theatre Company's performance space not entirely sure what to expect. The lights went out, the show began, and there was a narrator's voice. I'm personally a sucker for third person narrators, omniscient or otherwise, so the show was already starting strong as far as I was concerned. I prepared myself for a late afternoon of enjoyment.
     Now, I don't want to spoil the show, nor do I want to give an in depth review of it, so I'm just going to give a few of my reflections. WikiMusical basically has a hero's journey structure to it. The protagonist, Peter, and his brother, Kurt, go on a quest to get back home, gaining new party members along the way. But, at its heart, WikiMusical is about these brothers mending a relationship that has gone from simple sibling rivalry to... let's just say Peter isn't Kurt's biggest fan and leave it at that. It's definitely the kind of story I can get behind, and by God did I enjoy the whole setup: I mean, it was basically an RPG (role-playing game, in case you were wondering).
     Perhaps the most fun was the shear amount references in it. Blake Harris, the librettist and lyricist (he shares these credits with Frank Ceruzzi), recently wrote the book Console Wars, and a lot of his research for that book appears in WikiMusical. One of the first things we see the brothers do, as children, is argue over whether Santa should give them a Genesis or a SNES (the correct answer is a Genesis, by the way, and anyone who says otherwise is bad and should feel bad). Later on, when the party accidentally solves a puzzle (seriously, the musical is basically an RPG), the Legend of Zelda secret sound plays, and it becomes a subtle plot point when it doesn't play. I was apparently the only person in the audience who both got and loved that judging by my lonely laughter (the gamer/theatre nerd overlap is bigger than you would think, but smaller than you would hope). Yet another example was the villain referring to an 8-bit dungeon. Unfortunately, despite Mr. Harris' hopes (which he mentioned to me in the brief amount of time I got to talk to him at intermission), the 8-bit dungeon was decidedly not 8-bit. In fact, every projected screen was blatantly 64-bit and from an N64 game, except for the lone 16-bit projection. You win some, you lose some, I guess. Honestly, that's just me scratching the surface of the references and jokes that were often relevant and managed to not take away from the story, which is pretty impressive. And I'm not even mentioning the non-video games ones, like Wikipedia's constant desire for donations in recent years.
     The music was really rather catchy. I once read a quote that basically boiled down to 'if  you leave the theater and you're not humming a tune, the musical's failed.' I would properly attribute my awful paraphrase if I could remember who said it, but, alas, I cannot, much to my shame. But it's Thursday, two days after I saw the show, and I'm still humming Search Engine Crash, the song that basically starts their quest. It was perhaps my favorite song of the night. It was generally easy to follow melodically and had some pretty nice harmonies in it, and, much like narration, I'm a sucker for harmonies. Very close to it in my esteem was The Blogger's Ballad, which, despite being the obligatory act II dramatic female aria that can often feel tacked on and/or boring if the character singing it is not the primary lead, was probably the highlight of that act. It was also the only true solo of the show. Just a woman and pit. No chorus, no second or third person singing under her. Just her and the pit. It had a very welcome different feel from the rest of the score while still feeling like it was part of WikiMusical.
     Despite the score's catchiness, there were a few lyrics that didn't quite sit with me. This was generally because it sometimes felt like someone started saying something in a song slightly before that character wanted to. However, there was one lyric that upset me, and I feel obligated to point it out. I certainly don't think the lyric was at all meant to be malicious, nor was it meant to be the inception of anything insidious, but it felt like the repercussions of the word choice weren't fully thought out. I'm going to paraphrase it because, well, lyrics (specifically, the memory of them) aren't my strong suit: "You're the one who taught me how to trick girls into giving me head."
     I totally get what they were going for. Bigger brother passes down knowledge to little brother about how to be a more winsome and attractive person to the opposite sex. Friends and siblings do that for each other. It shows closeness, and it shows the level of faith the knowledge-less has in the knowledgeable. However, the use of the word "trick" leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. It seems very unsavory and underhanded, which is not how we should look at sex. It makes it sound like sex is about winning, which seems rather unhealthy to me. Not to mention, at its extreme (which the lyric was NOT going for at all) it does enter slightly rapey territory.
     Now that I've said that, let me repeat that clearly was not the intention of the lyricist duo. Let me also add that I can be somewhat sensitive around such subjects, which is why I picked up on it when they probably didn't. Did the lyric take me out of the moment? Admittedly, yes. Did it ruin the show, or even the song? No, because the intended subtext was really clear. Still, I think this was the first time it became abundantly clear to me how important every single word in a lyric is. "Trick" was bad because of its definition and connotation. Sure, the subtext was "You taught me how to present myself as a sexually desirable human being which proves that you're awesome and I need you," but the word was just the wrong choice.

     Okay, off my soap box. I'm getting kind of rambly. Let me just say that despite that one moment of awkward "that's... not... okay..." I really, really, really enjoyed myself. The score was fun, the jokes appealed to my nerdiness, and you could basically imagine the whole thing as an 16-bit RPG complete with a five-man band. I would really love to see more shows that do some of the things WikiMusical does. There's a whole untapped (okay, just not fully tapped) audience of video game and computer nerds that would seriously eat stuff like this up. Not everything has to be a joke about how expensive Broadway is or being Jewish, after all.

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