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Performance review: 'Pandemonium' at Royce Hall

November 18, 2010 |  5:30 pm

Pandemonium 1 
“Pandemonium,” the latest musical adventure from the creators of “Stomp,” ended its brief run at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Thursday, leaving us with a formidable SAT question:

“Pandemonium”: “Stomp”
 
a) Traffic cones: brooms
b) Piping: thundering
c) Fits of drowsiness: slight headache
d) Nickels: dollars
e) All of the above

The correct answer is e) all of the above. Still scratching your head? Then allow me to guide you through the logic.

“Pandemonium,” featuring the Lost and Found Orchestra, creates music out of an array of homemade instruments. The 26-member ensemble pats cello cases, shakes water jugs, sets bows to bendable saws and thumps, strums and blows a cornucopia of weirdo objects that look as though they’ve been assembled at the world’s most fanciful hardware store.
 
As a former high school shop class dunce, I won’t even try to break down the component parts of the Bed Bass, Stringed Wok and Squonkaphone. And as I was kicked out of band in my first year (long story!), I can only tell you that the whines, chirps, meows and groans emitted by these thingamajigs have an astonishing reliability. 

But the “Pandemonium” title misleads. The orchestral whimsy conducted by Luke Cresswell, who created and directed the show with his fellow Brit Steve McNicholas, operates under strict supervision. The instruments may be makeshift, but their "music" is as carefully coordinated as any major philharmonic symphony. (Whether you’d want to buy a recording of this somewhat monotonous concert, however, probably depends on your appreciation of 3-D blockbuster soundtracks.)

“Stomp,” which turned adolescent boys’ mania for drumming into a money-raking global phenomenon, was a percussive juggernaut, always threatening to explode in a conflagration of ricocheting rhythm. More ingenious musically, “Pandemonium” is less satisfying theatrically than its predecessor.

It's not just a lack of escalation (although a choir, largely consisting of members of UCLA Chamber Singers, adds some much needed vocal pep at the end of the program). The production's fey spirit has a self-congratulatory aspect to it, like a pelican enjoying its eccentric pelican-ness a little too much.
 
The oddities keep rolling out — filing cabinets, more traffic cones, children’s toys that squeak when conked. Barrels, ridable balls, inflated plastic baggies, “Phantom of the Opera”-size equipment.  Any minute Monty Hall could have popped up to find out what crazy stuff we might contribute to get in on the act. (Surely someone in the audience could have provided mean accompaniment on a comb.)
 
It’s hard to imagine “Pandemonium” developing into the same decades-long sensation as “Stomp.” (Poor ticket sales have already put the kibosh on an extensive U.S. tour.) The staging sets the urban troupe, decked in mid-length black jackets, in continual motion. But spread out over two acts, the sound has trouble sustaining its fury. It’s “Stomp” on sedatives after a crash course in obscure music lessons.

-- Charles McNulty

twitter.com\charlesmcnulty

Photo: Members of the Lost and Found Orchestra perform "Pandemonium" during a special press event in September celebrating the U.S. premiere at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami. (Alan Diaz/Associated Press) 
 

 


 
Comments () | Archives (6)


Charles,

there are aspects of your critique that I do not believe should go unchallenged.

To many it may seem inappropriate for the creator of a show to "stoop" to a response, the internet has changed the rules of the game: tech writers are quickly responded to by the tech community, but I suspect theatre critics enjoy a certain immunity, principally because we all accept theatre as a subjective medium.

In the past reviews would come and go, to be forgotten soon after the date of publication; now, however, they remain fixed, trapped in amber, syndicated across other news sites, upheld by search engines as the predominant record of an event that by its very nature is transient. We can't go back in time, but we can google: what we find may well be inaccurate, biased, partial or jaundiced, but that is all that remains. One small voice amongst many is given the air of finality, however accurate. Few people will dig deeper than the first page a search engine provides.

Be that as it may, everyone is entitled to their response to anything, and that's the way it should be.

So I have no issue with your problems with the show, it just didn't work for you: how could I possibly expect to please everyone? I'm satisfied from the standing ovations we have received at every single performance around the world, and from the 100% positive tweets on Twitter from audience members, that we are doing something right, for the majority of our audience.

What I do have a problem with, however, and what I find offensive, is the implication, shared by another review in the Miami Herald, that we are in this business for the money: for the "nickels, dollars and money raking"...

This tells me several things: you don't know us, you failed to notice the scale of the show and the budgetary implications of that scale and you perceive our success as undeserved. This last point, is of course, totally subjective and you are welcome to your opinion.

Stomp has been my life for the past twenty years, more if you include the years spent on the streets in Europe and in small scale venues in the UK where the concepts behind Stomp were nurtured: I've given everything to it, as has my partner, Luke Cresswell... we made Stomp because we were driven to create it, because we were passionate about it. There was no financial motive other than making a living doing something we love. We've maintained and evolved Stomp over the years because we want to, because we still have a passion for it...

Of course, we got lucky, and have been very successful with Stomp: we have used our success to develop our other work, which we are equally passionate about (a completely different pursuit: we make 3D natural history documentaries with the accent on music and visuals, and not blockbusters, you'd be pleased to hear). We have also bought a building in our hometown of Brighton, UK, which we are developing as a much needed small scale theatre and concert hall. We are not a Broadway company, we are not a Hollywood studio and we are most certainly not Broadway producers...

Which brings me to Pandemonium and the Lost and Found Orchestra: this is our latest passion. We created it as a festival show, with no thought of touring, no thought of Broadway. This recent trip to America was actually a downsizing and streamlining of the production to enable it to have a life outside the odd festival appearance. It is born of the same passion for theatre and music that created Stomp and we are totally committed to it: the audience reaction around the world has encouraged us to persevere with this demanding show, and we know it has touched audiences in a way that Stomp never has.

Before the economic downturn, the show played the Sydney Opera House concert hall to become its biggest selling show, ever...

Getting something like this off the ground isn't easy: we have completely funded it ourselves, aside from a small UK Arts Council grant for the Brighton Festival in 2006. Pandemonium is as far away from the Broadway blockbuster world you envisage as it could possibly be.

You are welcome to your opinion of our work, but to accuse us of cynical money raking is so far off the mark, to be perfectly honest, it's laughable...

By the way, there was some creative licence with the phrase "100% positive tweets": one mother (who did enjoy the show) did say her 3 year old wanted to go home mid way through the performance. Thus far I have found one 3 year old and one LA Times critic that didn't find the show "awesome", "pretty spectacular", " epically great", "phenomenal" etc...

Perhaps its time to quote the tweets rather than the reviews...

Steve McNicholas co creator, co director Stomp and Pandemonium

i will make this brief. as a performer in the show i enjoy myself every minute of every performance. this is by far an awesome show with extremely talented people. i dont know watch show you were watching, or the mood you were in the night you came but your view is shared by no one. i do understand everyone has an opinion. but i take offense to this. the review that you made is completely in accurate. my best wishes to you and next time maybe you can watch the show with an open mind.

Interesting. I don't think I was at the same show.

I was at the Nov 17th show at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus and what I saw was a fun, creative and uplifting show that was as visually engaging as it was sonically.

So here's a review from someone of the MTV generation who didn't fail out of band.

I saw moments of mind-bogglingly intricate choreography with numerous cast members pulling off great musical numbers. I saw some very clever and elaborate staging (it's expansive and the cast members are constantly moving), at times I saw beautiful and moving musical numbers (the bottles number for one and the crystal glasses number for another), I saw intense and powerful numbers and even some outright hysterical moments where I heard the entire crowd laughing (except, apparently, the above reviewer).

I did see some moments that seemed to be taken out of the Stomp playbook - but that would be like saying a U2 record isn't good because it sounds too much like U2! Of course, that would all depend upon if you liked U2 to start with, wouldn't it?

I was, however, bummed for a few of my friends who have small children (and very early mornings) who had to leave at intermission as I thought the best part of the show was during the 2nd act (making sense when a show builds the way this one did).

In fact, the only real issue I had with the whole evening was that it started at 8 and not 7.

My opinion is that if you liked Stomp, you'll love Pandemonium. If you didn't like Stomp you may not like this either - but you might!

I think the fact that a film producer I was with thought that he'd love to see this troupe score a film says a lot. But he obviously saw something that the above reviewer missed. But that film would probably be yet another 3D blockbuster that the above reviewer dislikes.

I guess what we really learned from this all is that if you like blockbuster movies, go see Pandemonium, you'll love it!

By "the above reviewer" I meant Mr. McNulty. :o)

Dear Charles,

Did you arrive at the theatre with an open mind or had you decided that you were not going to enjoy the show before the house lights faded?

Bob

We have been privileged to see all previous productions of the Lost and Found Orchestra/Pandemonium and have witnessed it's development and growth over the last four years, and without doubt, this show in LA was the highlight so far.

The choreography, focused lighting and sound quality was the best yet and we were blown away with the powerful and moving original music. ( It's easy to forget that many new shows these days are based on established accessible music (e.g. Love, which we had seen a few days earlier ) giving them an instant ticket to success.

All shows we have witnessed have received standing ovations and the LA shows were no exception. The euphoria around us was infectious from the first number. The crowd clearly on the side of the performers. It's an amazing feat of originality and cleverly appeals to all ages. In the rest rooms in the interval, I heard a father ask his son what he thought of the show. The son expressed his amazement at the skill and timing of the musicians creating such melodic flowing passages with only one note each as opposed to a regular musical instrument. He was obviously a bright boy and a musician!!!

Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion and this show might not appeal to all, but if the reviewer witnessed the feeling in the theatre followed by the standing ovation at the end, surely his review is not entirely fair and balanced.,


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