March 18, 2012

Sam’s Enchanted Evening


I’m going to do something here I haven’t done since I was at the NY Press, and usually try to avoid. However, as this is a special case, I’m going to give a shameless and unabashedly biased plug to an upcoming show. So sue me.

        Some years back, a member of The Residents—an avant-Garde musical performance group from San Francisco now marking their fortieth anniversary—sent me the script of a new show he was thinking about. They’d recently been performing in Milan as part of an all-star tribute marking the fortieth anniversary of Sgt. Pepper. Given their carnivalesque aesthetic, they not surprisingly chose to play “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” and like everyone else on the bill, they were accompanied by a full orchestra.

        Well the show was a big hit and that gave them an idea, and “Sam’s Enchanted Evening” was the result. In what is essentially a one-man show (though in their case, calling it that would be a trite insult), Sam recounts how his life went very, very wrong. It’s funny and extremely dark, almost reminiscent of Beckett’s longer plays, but with lots more musical numbers. And that’s the hook—the show is filled with classic pop songs mostly from the sixties and seventies, but twisted into nearly unrecognizable alien forms, dismantled, turned upside down and sideways, then put back together again in a way only The Residents fully understand.

        The show was set aside for a while as other projects and tours came up, but last fall it had its premiere in a small theater in the Bay Area, where it played for nearly two months. The original plan called for a small orchestra, but those aren’t always easy to come by, and tend to be expensive. So the show as it premiered was a scaled down version, with piano accompaniment.

        I should back up here a moment. For the past four decades, an evolving, complex mythology has always been a part of The Residents’ mystique. Of all the back stories and sidebars, a few things have remained constant: there were four members, they were adamantly anonymous, and always performed in elaborate disguises. Well, that changed (sort of) during last year’s “Talking Light” tour. For the first time ever, they revealed their names to the audience. Although the music and the costumes were still intact, the quartet was now a trio. “Randy,” “Chuck,” and “Bob” were still there, but “Carlos” the drummer had left the band to take care of a sick mother.

        Now with “Sam’s Enchanted Evening,” another twist has been added to the mix, as it represents the first time one of The Residents has gone solo (other than Carlos, that is). Front man Randy Rose, whose voice is unmistakable to anyone who’s heard one of the albums, maintains center stage here, but without his old band behind him. In his theatrical debut—albeit one written and composed by The Residents—he plays Sam the Stranger, a man old beyond his years, forced to use a walker, who feels compelled to share his life story with anyone who’ll listen, and does so through the songs that marked certain periods for him. So we learn about his family, his loves, his cars, his friends, Vietnam, and his steep decline through “Teddy Bears Picnic,” “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” “Born to Be Wild,” songs by the Beatles and Hank Williams, George Thoroughgood’s “Who Do You Love?” some one-hit wonders, and a dozen more.

        As with everything The Residents touch, the show is much more, and much stranger than a simple description could ever convey. It’s a bit like what you might expect if a group of extraterrestrials read a report about what a “show” or an “album” was, and decided to try to do one themselves. And to be honest, I’m working with an early draft of the script here, and have no idea how it may have changed over the years before its premiere.

        The important thing, though, is that the show is finally coming to New York. But I guess you probably figured that much already. I mean, it would be pretty pointless, wouldn’t it, to be writing a long preview for a show that played on the other side of the country and whose run had finished four or five months back. I mean, am I right? That’d just be dumb. So yes, “Sam’s Enchanted Evening” will be playing four nights on the Lower East Side towards the end of March, and that’s some swell news. A Residents show is always an event, and a sort-of solo residents show is something quite unique. So if you’ve forgiven me for writing what we used to call a pick, here are some of the necessary details, and you can find the rest on those internets in a jiffy. Believe me, it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than any of that shit that’s playing on Broadway.


Sam’s Enchanted Evening

Abrons Art Center

466 Grand St.

March 24-27

7:30 p.m.

Tickets $25


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