This innovative sci fi musical features venture capitalists and elaborate dance sequences.
Photos by Ari Fulton
150 years in the future, governments have been replaced by corporations, reproduction by cloning and emotion by productivity. Having learned that humanity's innate hormonal nature leads only to war and destruction, this new class of humans has decided to go without, with movement routines called Psychothrobics helping to control their hormones. When a regenerated woman from 2015 somehow remembers her emotional past, a pair of scientists begin experiments on emotion and intimacy that threaten the corporate hierarchy, and themselves. This is R/evolution.
William Moulton and M M De Voe's creation is a full musical production in every sense of the word: three hours, with original music, a chorus performing intricately choreographed dance routines, microphones, a full set and innovative projection design—all in a 50-seat black box theater. This impressive feat, moreover, is equally matched by their success in constructing a comprehensive science fiction dystopia universe on a global scale, without getting bogged down in all the details. Though perhaps a bit simplistic in its logic for exactly how these futuristic humans managed to rid themselves of hormonal impulses, the clear focus on a single pair of people who together rediscover what love is carries R/evolution far beyond just a clever idea.
The world of Tech, Preen and Repo, after all, is not truly emotionless—there is ambition, when Tech seizes the chance to take over the experiment of the regenerated woman, excitement when the corporation decides to take a chance on him and an intense fear of failure all around. Rather, it is all about holding that emotion in check, and especially keeping it from spreading to others for fear of a "cascade" of hormones from which there is no recovery. In this view of life, touching one another is absolutely forbidden.
Into this world walks Abby, an easily upset, small-town mother who cannot recall how she ended up as the corporation's sample but who sure as hell wants no part in their experiments. This violent presence cannot help but rub off on Tech and Preen, who turn out to like each other far more than either might have imagined. And as the pair of clones rediscover their humanity, their alien, uncompromising nature melds into something far more relatable.
The music of R/evolution follows the same path, beginning as something foreign and futuristic and slowly transforming into the emotional, melodic harmonies we recognize today. The beautiful, elaborate dances, likewise, are all sharpness and odd angles at the start but by the time love is in the air, the curved shapes of contemporary ballet are easily recognizable. This is a production that heavily emphasizes movement, from those musical numbers to the impressive "Psychothrobics" routines, immersing audiences in a physical, visceral world that perfectly complements its rather cerebral concept.
While the choreographic ensemble is a treat to watch any time they are onstage, the musical largely focuses on a central quartet of characters--experiment leader Tech, beautiful and charming Psychothrobics instructor Preen, unwilling lab subject Abby and her even more unwilling jailer, Repo. Each of the four is just a little too annoyingly self-centered, appropriate for a universe in which everything is driven by profit but at times difficult to relate to. The most genuine of characters, of course, is our modern-day compatriot Abby (Alison Rose Munn), whose delightful outrage and refusal to assimilate becomes ever more fascinating as she begins to reveal how and why she left our world the first time.
James Parks as Repo is also a joy to watch, his properness and constant surprise at Tech's outlandish plans quickly giving away to greed. Meanwhile, the true story revolves around the growing attraction--and perhaps love--between Tech (Mykel Vaughn) and Preen (Debbie Williams), whose chemistry is certainly believable even if some of their sudden changes in loyalty to the corporation and each other do not. And of course, the best moments of the show are when Clark Williams is on stage, portraying the big boss Max who may be playing a longer game than anyone else realizes.
So what makes a world run by corporations any different from one run by governments? Venture capitalists, for one, and a penchant for hexagonal designs in true, classic sci fi style. Scott Dahl's clever set accomplishes a great deal with just a few items, especially in the archives room that documents technologies from the late twentieth century, while David Bengali's complex, logical and well-executed projection design believably brings the audience along into the future. And though a few non-sheer curtains were desperately needed at various points throughout the production, the chrome, translucent world of R/evolution fits perfectly with the story the actors tell up on stage.
An unfeeling, corporate world is a future that is often too easily imaginable for humankind today, and the cast and crew of this musical have managed to find the hidden beauty in even such a result. Ultimately, it is a story that embraces imperfection, and hope, looking forward to a day in which even the simplest emotions can be met with gratefulness and with joy.
R/evolution plays at the Robert Moss Theater through June 13.
This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.