Stage Adaptation of Lo Fabers Henrys House Hubbard Hall, Cambridge NY
In 2001, former God Street Wine leader Lo Faber came back onto the scene with a new band and a new album. The Lo Faber Band consisted of Faber, 3 former Ominous Seapods (Todd Pasternack guitar, Tom Pirozzi – bass, Ted Marotta drums), keyboardist Devin Greenwood, cellist/multi-instrumentalist Dave Eggar and former opera singer Angela Ford. The album is a double-disc children’s fairytale/jam-rock opera called “Henry’s House”. For 2 week run at the end of this month, a small theater in the shrimpy upstate NY town of Cambridge has turned the album into a full-fledged stage-musical, complete with a 20-person cast and music provided by the full Lo Faber Band. Impressed by the album and the few Lo Faber Band club gigs I had caught, I was excited to see what I consider one of the most adventurous undertakings in a jamband world built upon adventurousness.
“Henry’s House” tells the story of a group of children – headed by the young prince Henry – sent away from their homes by their parents when trouble befalls their town. They are sent up north to the old summer house of Henry’s parents to hideout under the watchful care of the lovesick Teacher Tess. Once at the house the children and Tess are trapped in a bubble at the bottom of a lake by the evil Bubsy Beals and his henchman Crafty Fox. Using a magic bell and mystical golden rings, they finally free themselves and race home to save their forlorn parents. There’s much more to it, but that’s the general gist.
The Saturday night show I attended saw a sold out crowd in the smallish Hubbard Hall (crowd estimate = 200). The stage setup included the Lo Faber Band perched on a lofted platform above the stage as well as a bridge that extended from the stage to the back of theater, effectively splitting the room in half.
In an effort to get my hands around this event while not going on forever, I will present interesting parts of the show in this convenient bulletpoint format:
I liked that the band played an important part in the show, with band members also playing characters in the story. The gangly Pirozzi was perfect as the burnt out bus-driver Crazy Davie. Lo was Henry’s father. Angela Ford was the lovely Teacher Tess. Todd was Bubsy Beals. And at times, characters would join the band on the lofted band platform and sing as if they were the band’s lead singer, as other cast and band members sang backup in the other mic. At one point in the show, Crazy Davie was told by one the children characters that he needed “go back upstairs and play bass on the next song”. This type of stuff worked great and served to blur the line between musical and rock show. Another good example of this occurred near the show’s end when Ted Marotta pounded out nice drum fills during “The Free Kid’s Shimmy Shake”. Everyone in the building was focused on him intently, providing unrestrainable hoots and hollers as the cast jumped up and down with arms raised in unscripted rock-n-roll jubilation. It was more Irving-Plaza-encore than upstate-NY-theater-troupe.
The story included all the elements of a good stage production fear, humor, good vs. evil, despair, triumph, heroics. And the songs also covered significant ground, from fast songs to slow songs to sweet songs to raucous numbers to grooving songs to “Stupid Hat”-type complexities.
Clad in red long johns (the kind seen in cartoons – you know with the “crap panel” in the back), a hunter’s vest and a red hunter’s hat with devil horns, Todd Pasternack was great as Bubsy Beals. Teamed with actor David Girard (who was terrific) as Crafty Fox, the two were a fantastic evil/comic relief duo. The most unique part of the show (and my favorite) was the fact that Todd had his wireless guitar strapped on as he acted, sang and danced so he was able to play the menacing guitar leads during Busby Beals’ songs. When’s the last time you saw a character in a musical play ripping guitar leads on stage? It was fucking cool.
I’ve got to give Lo credit for creating a damn good album/musical while staying true to his jamband roots. I’m sure it would’ve been quite easy to fall victim to the schmaltziness common to musicals, both lyrically and musically (though you could probably say the storyline has its share of schmaltz, but I think that’s almost a necessity in these types of things. This ain’t “Death of a Salesman” folks.)
The show really helped me make sense of the storyline. I must admit, most of the time I spent listening to the CDs was while I was driving. With all the bird-flipping and road-raging going on, there were parts of the story I didn’t understand. Seeing the show helped me put it all together.
If “Henry’s House” doesn’t find its way onto a bigger stage, I’d be very surprised.