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Musicians From L.A.'s Club Scene Make This Out-There Theater Hybrid Worth a Damn

LA WEEKLY: THURSDAY, JUNE 16, 2016 AT 7:08 A.M. 
BY BILL RADEN

 Photo: Rock With You Photography

Photo: Rock With You Photography

 

It hasn’t been easy for musical-theater makers to harness the lightning-in-a-bottle power and presence of the live rock performance. In the nearly 50 years since Hair minted the genre, precious few rock musicals have convincingly navigated the vast reaches of cultural space that separate the very different planets responsible for the sublimating Dionysian power of rock and the structured poetic logic of dramatic narrative. As a rule, actors can’t rock, and rockers don’t act.

Which is why the significant revelation of Parallel Worlds, the intriguing experimental rock musical by Brandon Beckner (score and book) and Steve Sobel (lyrics) now playing in Sherman Oaks, is the exhilarating degree to which the half-film/half-live stage hybrid succeeds at delivering rock without necessarily cohering as the backstage meta-musical it strives to be.

That’s because Beckner and Sobel (with lyricist Paola Jimenez), whose backgrounds straddle music and movies rather than the theater, turn out to be extraordinarily credible songwriters. The 20-tune original score of moody romantic ballads, swaggering anthems and high-octane rockers could easily grace a Viper Room set list on a Saturday night. Additionally, rather than using trained actors, director Matthew McCray has gone outside the musical-theater ranks to cast veterans from the local club scene as the story’s rock-world musicians/characters.

Real-life singer-songwriter Cassidy Catanzaro (formerly with New York’s all-female alt-country Antigone Rising) plays Tabitha, the lead belter of a struggling retro-metal band that has been hired to score the movie projected onstage (on designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s assemblage of monitors and projection screens). Ryan Hudson, the real-life frontman for L.A. hard rockers Love and a .38, is Miles, Tabitha’s recently ex-lover and the band’s co-lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist. Braden Lyle (lead guitar), Angelica Abrams (keyboards and vocals), Julia Lage (bass and vocals) and Mike Odabashian (drums) fill out the ensemble.

 Photo: Rock With You Photography

Photo: Rock With You Photography

The book’s supranatural conceit follows Tabitha’s discovery that as the band sets down the movie score’s tracks, the emotional colorings of the songs alter the onscreen love story about aspiring artist J.B. (Shawn Reaves) and true love Ella (Marci Miller). J.B. wavers between becoming a New York art superstar or being with the stubbornly L.A.-rooted Ella. (Tim Gray directed the film, which was shot by Keith DeCristo.) Soon Tabitha and Miles are working out their own unfinished personal business by dueling onstage to determine the onscreen lovers’ fate: Cassidy’s wistful, neo-folk romantic ballads bring the lovers together; Miles’ cynical and raucous, Zeppelin-esque rockers push them apart.

All the players have serious recording and club-rock chops, and both Catanzaro and Hudson prove themselves powerfully soulful and pitch-perfect song interpreters (Abrams and Lyle are equally impressive on their solos in act two’s “Anarchy.”) The band’s live concert is a tour de force.
And though Beckner has his music dueling for the soul of the onscreen narrative, the far more compelling duel is ontological and has to do with live presence and the fascinating overlap between the metonymic world of the onscreen fiction and the metaphoric “reality” enacted live onstage. In the end the battle is no contest: The band rocks, the acting does not. And what’s astonishing is the degree to which that doesn’t matter.

CAP Studio, 13752 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks; through June 26.

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Review: ‘Parallel Worlds: A New Rock Music Experience’

CULTURE SPOT LA: June 9, 2016 | By Julie Riggott

 "Parallel Worlds" at CAP Studio in Sherman Oaks / Photo by Rock With You Photography

"Parallel Worlds" at CAP Studio in Sherman Oaks / Photo by Rock With You Photography

 

Sometimes, you just have to hand it to artists who refuse to be daunted by the sheer audacity of their vision, whatever that vision may be. And thus, I applaud the creators of Parallel Worlds, billed as “A New Rock Music Experience” that combines live music, dramatic acting and film. While I’m not sure that “new” is the right adjective to describe a show built around classic rock, it is an experience that is generally exciting and immersive, and will keep most of your senses engaged throughout.

Parallel Worlds is the brainchild of Writer/Composer/Executive Producer Brandon Beckner. A longtime musician, Beckner has also had success in the filmmaking arena with his well-received 2009 indie film, “Remarkable Power!” Drawing on his dual talents, he conceived of a show that had an interwoven storyline between what was happening on stage between musicians, and what was happening in a film running simultaneously. With each element mirroring or propelling the storyline of the other, it ignites a lively conceptual interplay that deepens the emotional resonance of the piece as a whole.

As mentioned, the three legs of Parallel Worlds are music, film and drama. They don’t all rest on equally sturdy foundations, however. The strongest element is the music. In a town as full of musical talent as LA, you would expect them to assemble a tight, rocking band and that is exactly what you get onstage. Auditions yielded six musicians who play like they have been together for years. With excellent, clear acoustics, the bass and drums have exciting, visceral impact; the talented lead guitarist and keyboardist have ample opportunity to show their chops as well.

The heart of the band is the two lead singers, played with charisma and charm by Cassidy Catanzano and Ryan Hudson. While the band is ostensibly in the studio to record a soundtrack to a film about a failing relationship, it eventually becomes apparent that there is an equally contentious relationship between the two singers. Of the pair, Catanzano really impresses with her soaring vocals and stage presence. Hudson has the look and sardonic attitude of a jaded rocker down pat and his vocals are strong as well, despite a thinner voice.

The music is straight up classic rock with no effort to be “modern.” You can hear influences of Pink Floyd, Creed, Melissa Etheridge, Third Eye Blind and The Beatles at various points throughout. What I particularly appreciated was the lack of a “Broadway” veneer to the songs. They were not sweetened or softened, and the singers avoided the typical theatrical histrionics.

Concurrent with the music, the film runs on seven screens of varying sizes that appear around and behind the performers. It tells the story of a young artist living in LA who must go to New York for a job opportunity, against the wishes of his girlfriend. Through flashbacks, we see the genesis of their relationship and the difficult choices he must face in maintaining his artistic and personal integrity. Positives were the guerilla-style shooting (presumably with an SLR), dynamic editing and interesting actors. Negatives were the too-long dream montage, extraneous personae and the cornball ending.

The onstage drama was the weakest link. Whether this was due to lyricists Steve Sobel and Paola Jimenez or Stage Director Matthew McCray, I could not say, but the “drama” between the singers felt insipid and did not go anywhere interesting, leading to a big shrug at the end. The opportunity to involve the other four players was lost, as they were not integral to the story and had no dramatic importance save for the occasional quip.

With 25 songs, Parallel Worlds could use some editing to make it tighter and maintain momentum. Paring back on the overly extended dream sequence comes to mind as an obvious place to cut. With some tweaking, this show could easily find an appreciative audience in larger venues, which it deserves. Whatever one thinks of the film or dramatic goings-on, all fans of classic rock can be assured of a rollicking good concert with engaging songs. If you’re like me, you’ll definitely feel the urge to raise your digital torch (cell phone) at encore time.

—David Maurer, Culture Spot LA

“Parallel Worlds” runs through Sunday, June 26. Catch performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. Doors open at “Club Parallel” one hour before show time, as does the bar. Drinks are “on the house” with the $40 ticket purchase (served responsibly). 

Tickets are available online here. All ages are welcome, but parents might consider this a PG-13 show: no sexual content but some mature language. 

Club Parallel invades CAP Studio in the heart of Sherman Oaks for this multi-dimensional experience (13752 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91423; 818-990-2001). 

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Review: A Fresh, Innovative and Consistently Entertaining Musical Production –

“Parallel Worlds"

LIVING OUT LOUD: By Jeremy Ross on June 5, 2016

It takes varying skill sets to stage a play, direct a film and perform a concert, and aptitude in one area hardly guarantees talent in another. This is the remarkable thing about “Parallel Worlds: A New Rock Music Experience,” a musical production that runs at CAP Studio in Sherman Oaks through June 26. The production bills itself quite accurately as a rock music experience, since it mixes film, theater and rock music to form a show in which all of the pieces may seem independently familiar, but their combination feels fresh, clever and ultimately innovative. Separate each aspect of the show from the rest, and the individual pieces may not seem particularly novel, but the creators of “Parallel Worlds” act like master chefs, taking what seem like standard ingredients and combining them to create something fresh.

“Parallel Worlds” is the creation of Brandon Beckner, who wrote the production as well as the original songs that dominate the show alongside the songwriters/lyricists Steve Sobel and Paola Jimenez. The production mixes a live concert with a film that tells the story of young lovers J.B. (Shawn Reaves) and Ella (Marci Miller) whose relationship is torn apart when he must leave Los Angeles for his big break as an artist in New York. A live band performs songs that serve as commentary on the action, and essentially act as a Greek chorus for the couple, thus becoming characters themselves. Gradually the focus shifts from the action on screen to the action on stage, as the band members become characters in themselves.

Much of the production seems inspired by the culture of the 1990s, from the Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites look of Reaves to the songs that would fit easily right beside Lisa Loeb and Juliana Hatfield on that movie’s iconic soundtrack. The female lead singer of the band, Cassidy Catanzaro, recalls Melissa Etheridge during her “Come to My Window” heyday, while the male lead, Ryan Hudson, has the long hair and goatee of a young Dave Grohl. Most of the band members may have barely been in diapers during the era that “Parallel Worlds” invokes, but they seem eerily transported from the Seattle grunge scene of a quarter century ago.

While none of the songs are as memorable as “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” every one is solid and well-crafted, performed with gusto by each of the musicians on stage. Where they far exceed expectations is when the songs end and their stage performances begin. None of the band members are trained as actors, but it is impossible to tell. Catanzaro and Hudson remain as compelling when the music stops as when they are singing, and drummer Mike Odabashian steals the show with bits of comedy. Demonstrating a flair for physical comedy while hidden behind a drum set hardly seems possible, but that is precisely what Odabashian does.

“Parallel Worlds” succeeds both as a narrative and as a rock concert, but it is the particular ways in which these two separate disciplines interact that make the show so fresh and surprising. The story makes some impressive gambles which pay off remarkably; Beckner and the rest of the creative team show a real willingness to push boundaries, and thus while each of the elements of the show may feel standard on their own, “Parallel Worlds” ultimately offers something that is unpredictable and consistently entertaining.

“Parallel Worlds: A New Rock Music Experience” is performed Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through June 26 at CAP Studio (13752 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks 91423). 

For tickets and more information, visit parallelworldsexperience.com.