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The Lisps' music stands on its own in A.R.T's "Futurity"

Posted by Jonathan Donaldson  March 30, 2012 01:13 AM

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For those who still struggle with the idea of musical theater as a barrier to enjoying good music, I give you Futurity, which runs at A.R.T. through April 15, 2012. While true, there are a portion of songs in the performance which don't really have legs outside the show, most do pretty darn well on their own.

Futurity is a musical largely written by and performed by Brooklyn indie-folk band, the Lisps. I say 'largely' because the grandeur of the Civil War era production, with its elements of time/space play, ala "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," and ironic weird-science (ironic because we *know* what the future became, while the characters project their vision upon us), was not accomplished by the Lisps without a little help from their friends.

Some of the best music here, while fantastic, is definitely on the more-traditional side. The musical's prologue, "Arkansas" is an instantly appealing spiritual with rich hymnal harmonies. This is juxtaposed with the much grittier and powerful work-song, "Sinner's Land." Both songs might be too antiquated to find their way onto a Bon Iver album, but there's plenty of cross-over material elsewhere to be had.

Futurity's music finds its best balance in more contemporary pop/folk-numbers led by the Lisps' CĂ©sar Alvarez, who stars as the child-like soldier, Julian Munro. Alvarez certainly channels a bit of the Jonathan Richman man-child aesthetic, both in his lovably flat-affect and in his nasal vocal delivery (approachable '80s folk-punks, the Violent Femmes, might be a better reference point). "Cumberland Gap" is the catchiest of the lot, with a feeling halfway between a cowboy go-round (think "Happy Trails") and a Calypso campfire session. "Don't Wait" drives along with more of a country-folk skip that is readily translatable to today's folk fans. Alvarez shows additional versatility in the musty, Cohen-esque, vibe of "Ada." While several other songs push the dimensions even further, the theatrical elements (mood, characterizations, etc) bring about a cohesion which keeps the production from feeling too diffuse.

Detractors of musical theater need to ask themselves this: was the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper--with its reprise, interludes and flights of fancy--really any different? It's just music folks!


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About the author

Jonathan Donaldson is a Boston-based musician, writer, and second-generation music junkie. An Ohio native who moved to Boston in 1998, Jonathan's musical loves include R&B, psych, punk, bubblegum, country, electronic, More »

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