In the last days of summer, an out-of-this-world, world premiere, end-of-the-world musical has sprung up at OBERON (through September 8) the A.R.T.’s second stage where anything can and often does happen. BURN ALL NIGHT seems to be channeling the zeitgeist as it speaks to looming disaster: four millennials trying to find their way through life and love in the big city suddenly find themselves, literally, on the brink of global disaster.
I was tired when I walked in and fired up when I left. The show is propelled by ingenious direction and up to the minute choreography. A synth pop score by a real band (Teen Commandments), plus a book and lyrics by Andy Mientus give voice to the anxieties faced by these characters whose exploits unfold all over Oberon’s ultra-flexible, triple height space. With a bar at one end and a live band at the other, the audience sits or stands, drinks and dances as they intertwine with the cast moving from balcony to floor, in and amongst the crowd, on and off shifting platforms — as the show turns into an apocalyptic rager.
The tale, talent, and tunes immediately grabbed me. The show feels honest with dialogue and a driving, often moving score that sounds like it actually comes from real people rather than theatrical approximations of what such “characters” might sound like. This is one excellent cast: “Bobby” (the charismatic Lincoln Clauss) a newly-arrived innocent in the big city serendipitously connects with old friend and upwardly mobile “Holly” (the blazingly talented Krystina Alabado), who is currently coupled with “Zak,” an intense musician (the lanky, big-voiced Ken Clark), until the wily “Will” (Perry Sherman in a passionate, complex performance) spots her across a crowded room.
This foursome is surrounded by “The kids,” a chorus of performers led by Oona (the sassy smoldering MJ Rodriguez). This vibrant troupe pops through with personality and verve echoing the action and emotional content in song and dance. Together, the entire cast is a potent ensemble which director Jenny Koons and Tony-nominated choreographer Sam Pinkleton ingeniously orchestrate. In one duet, two characters sing to each other, while alternately breaking away to sing what’s going on inside their own heads. In another scene, a song suddenly erupts out of a conversation, then wraps up as the conversation snaps back into place and caps itself off. The staging and surprise of the moment brought spontaneous applause.
Act II picks up speed as revelations explode, the world cracks, loyalties shift, and the truth will out– which guarantees no easy answers for anyone. These intersecting narratives build on one another delivering a layered experience, and a feeling that things are spinning out of control, not only within each character, but also without, as the audience is swept up in discovering the destinies of these characters. As a deluge engulfs Texas, terrorist threats multiply, and volatile autocrats with their fingers on the buttons play chicken in “real” life, BURN ALL NIGHT channels the uncertainty of the times with great energy and affection for all of us on this wild trip. At OBERON through September 8!