By Jim McCarthy Jun 29, 2012 0 comments

For the Record

A few days ago, I went to a show called “For the Record” at Show at Barre on Vermont Ave, near (or maybe in) Los Feliz in Los Angeles, and I wanted to describe it because I think the format is terrific and hits a lot of my marks for what makes great Live 2.0 content.

The place is a restaurant, but for the show, the whole place becomes a theatre.  Diners/audience members sit at tables in the middle and booths at the edges, and there’s a stage for a band.  The idea of “For the Record” is that a small group (maybe eight) performers do the music from the films of a certain director, in this case Paul Thomas Anderson.  But describing it that way isn’t really doing it justice, because it’s far bigger than that.  The performers not only sing the music, but they act the scenes (or at least pieces of the scenes) around the songs from the movie.  They move all around the venue, and as the show unfolds, the audience realizes that they could be sitting next to a prop that comes into play, or sitting next to the place where one of the major scenes is going to happen.  It’s not theatre in the round…it’s theatre all over the place.  One performer at one point in the show was standing, singing and dancing on the bar from which drinks were actually being served.

The performers went through a handful of numbers at the beginning from two or three of Anderson’s movies (Punch Drunk Love and Magnolia, mostly) before settling in for what seemed like the feature presentation: Boogie Nights. This, they performed as a nearly complete story, doing the key dialogue from the key scenes and using the songs from the movie to help tell the story.  I don’t know if you could follow the actual story if you hadn’t seen the movie, but even still, it wouldn’t matter that much.

The performers were great singers and expressive (and funny) actors; the show wasn’t performed as pure irony, but it did have a sense of humor about itself.  There’s a scene in the movie where two or three of the main characters are sitting in a hot tub…pretty hard to recreate in this setting of course.  But the two actors in the scene did this by pulling grabbing a hoop that they were standing in which when raised, had a brown piece of fabric all the way around it.  So by standing there holding this hoop with both of their arms at their sides, it looked like they were sitting in a hot tub with their arms comfortably on the edge of the tub.  It was a funny moment, but also one that delivered the story.

And all of this would fall flat if the performers weren’t lights-out, but they were.  The singing is very strong, and the choreographed switching from scene to scene and character to character in real-time, right in front of the audience’s eyes (with no intermission, let it be said) is impressive.

First, I’d suggest that if you are in LA, go see it.  It’s tremendous fun, and Paul Thomas Anderson is just one of the directors that get featured.

Perhaps more importantly, this show is popular, successful and in my opinion, really has legs as a live entertainment property for several reasons.  It’s got an intimate connection to the audience, physically; it blends the familiar (music and movies you might know) with the new (the specific staging and performance of it) ; the quality of the performances and production are outstanding; and finally, and this is one that I find particularly powerful and important, this is a show that is fundamentally audience-oriented.  This show works hard to make the audience happy, and the performers reminded me in a way of athletes in a demanding game, giving it everything they had, sweating through a hard (but enjoyable) day’s work to deliver something designed to knock the audience out.  That makes a difference.  People read that and appreciate it.  It reminds me, in a way, of Cirque Du Soleil at its best, where you get the strong sense that the performers are literally putting their lives on the line to deliver a tremendous show.

So well done and kudos to Shane Scheel and the rest of the team doing For the Record. Audiences should go see the show because it’s a lot of fun, and producers and marketers of live entertainment should go see the show because there are some valuable things to learn from it.

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