[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]