Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mmmm, Bebop

[Performance Review] In his new cabaret/theater experiment Post War Bop, Orange club owner Lance Edwards attempts to re-create the vibe of the Beat-era basement jazz hangout. And I don’t think that’s entirely possible—even though the show itself still provides a lot of entertainment.

The first problem: language. The hour-long program finds an itinerant jazz quartet wandering in for a place to play, eventually to be joined by two couples—the performance’s four dancers—looking to have a fun night on the town. Because they’re meant to be representative of the late’40s/early ’50s bebop beatniks, their dialogue is awash in “hep cats,” “daddy-o’s” and various other archaisms. And it’s hard for it all not to come off sounding fairly … well, silly.
It’s even harder because of the second problem: acting. The performers clearly were cast primarily for skills other than playing characters and interpreting a script, which only makes the language sound clunkier. Some of Post War Bop’s verbal storytelling comes through sharp-edged poetry about the birth of the bebop scene, energetically read by Levi Negley; much of the rest of it falls flat.

But plenty of Post War Bop’s storytelling isn’t verbal, and that’s where it hits its stride. The “Slaves to the Beat” quartet turns in terrific interpretations of material from the likes of John Coltrane, excelling at both up-tempo and slow numbers. The dancing—choreographed by Hillary VanMoorleghem and Chris Peddecord—proves even more fascinating, evolving into the story of blurring lines of gender attraction. In the show’s program, Edwards argues that the bebop generation “planted the seeds of a Cultural Revolution,” and the dancers convincingly evoke a moment on the verge of a seismic shift. Edwards may not be able to make Beat talk sound natural, but Post War Bop still feels vital. (Scott Renshaw)

[Post War Bop plays every Thursday at approximately 7 p.m. at Orange, 533 S. 500 West; $5 cover]


  1. This show is entertainment. Great live Bebop, stunning live dancing, the best of the beat poets and a little story. It's fun and when everyone dances at the end you'll feel great.

    My performers are musicians and dancers. They had to play, dance and learn to act in a very few rehearsals. I thought they did a great job. The biggest struggle we had was to be heard in the cavernous space with a live audience.

    As to the dialog, of course it sounds silly. That's part of the fun. To look back and see how funny everyone was back then. All archaic slang sounds silly. Our slang will sound silly to.

    This is not a play. It is a show. The music and dance are there to move you body and emotions. The story and dialog are there to tickle your mind. When you leave you walk out smiling.

    One more thing, what Scott didn't mention is ,there is nothing else out there like this show. It's original. It's new.

    Lance Edwards
    533s 500w

  2. After studying beat culture in American History courses I'd always written it off as a silly movement driven by Americas biggest losers. Likewise, I dismissed personalities like Jack Kerouac as self diluted simpletons who should have read more books before presuming that their stream of consciousness novels could meaningfully contribute to literature.

    Post War Bop totally changed my perspective in a matter of minutes. Somehow the whole Beat Movement never made sense until Lance Edwards, Hillary VanMoorleghem, and the Slaves to the Beat brought it to life right in front of my eyes. Lance and his crew created a lucid window into an important but mysterious phase in American cultural history and that isn't something that happens every day in Utah.

    As the show started, the lines seemed corny and easy to make fun of, but while staring over a bottle of beer at the painfully sexy yet modestly dressed dancers, the musicians hit a groove and a realization struck me: These lines, like the beatniks who first spoke them, only seem silly because America has come so far in the past half century. It was the beat generation which smashed the first cracks into a culture of conformity. Put simply, the silliness shows us how far Americans have taken freedom of expression since the beatniks first conceived it.

    Club Orange is a perfect venue for this show which wouldn't fit most clubs. This might have something to do with the old building, the informal feel to the performance space, or maybe the orange motif which the script humorously acknowledged when the musicians made fun of Lance's orange uniform. Although Club Orange has always been one of the best places to hear Jazz Music in Salt Lake City, this show added the dimension of the dancers and I can't say enough about how well they moved. I particularly liked watching Hillary, who wears red and performs in every show though the other three dancers rotate, but all of the dancers are incredible. They've obviously had a lot of training.

    I can't wait until next Thursday!


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