An energetic and imaginative tale inhabited by a gung-ho cast of uninhibited young performers
By Joel Benjamin
BYUIOO, presented by the Pipeline Theatre Company, is a musical in a long line of “tribal” musicals like Hair, Godspell, Celebration. BYUIOO, subtitled “A New Folk Gospel Musical in an Entirely Made-up Language,” substitutes “the Pack” for “the tribe,” here consisting of mostly very young and agile performers. Set in a distant future after civilization has crumbled, BYUIOO (a perplexing title) is populated with what looks like young outcasts from one of the above-mentioned musicals. (Are there no senior citizens in “the distant future”?)
The action mostly takes place on a raised circular platform with ramps leading off to the outer walls of the Judson Memorial Church gym. A large tilted window with many panes separates the live band from the actors who are dressed in bedraggled, ragtag outfits. (Sets and the complicated props and masks were designed by Andy Yanni and the costumes by Meghan Gaber)
The audience is greeted by cast members upon entering the theater something which can be pleasant or annoying according to personal expectations. The actors use a gibberish which, far from being entirely made-up, consists of enough variations of English and other languages to be perfectly understood. Coupled with exaggerated mime, lively dance moves and a number of songs—in genres ranging from folk rock to gospel to pop—the story line unravels with uninhibited energy.
After scenes that indicated that we were, indeed, in some hazy future, one that resonated strangely of a hybrid of “Lord of the Flies” and “The Jungle Book,” a plot that involved the birth and kidnapping of a baby unspools imaginatively. There is a power struggle between a society led by Kahn (a tall, handsome Ben Otto) and some gentler sorts. Six Monkeys (Sydney Matthews, Cyndi Perczek, Nicole Spiezio, Rocky Vega, Israel Viñas & Eric Williams) wearing simple rope tails, bound about the stage like a crazy Greek Chorus commenting on the goings-on in gibberish and mime. Matkah (a tremulous, lovely Arielle Siegel) is the pregnant girl whose infant is kidnapped by Kahn. A chase scene, lit by hand-held instruments gradually unveils the baby as becoming a childlike Mogo (a sweet Molly McAdoo). Through a complicated series of colorful events, Mogo is finally returned in triumph to her own pack. BYUIOO ends in a hushed way with the stage lit only by jars filled with candle-like lights. ‘
A pair of mischievous, childlike characters, Bagheera (a blue-haired Stephanie Hsu) and Baloo (Dan Tracy in cute patched overalls) romp through the tale. Raksha (long-haired, good natured Andrew R. Butler) acts as a surrogate dad for Mogo. The rest of the cast: Jessica Frey as Tabiqua; Carly Menkin as Akela; and Ronald Peet as Kip.
Nate Weida, who wrote BYUIOO and composed the songs, led the small ensemble which handled the different song styles well. All the cast members, directed by Andrew Neisler, were appealingly committed to making what might have been just an exercise in group improvisation into a coherent and entertaining show, singing boisterously while jumping, rolling and romping about.
*Photos: Suzi Saddler
BYUIOO-a New Folk Gospel Musical
The Gym at Judson Church
243 Thompson St. at Washington Square South
New York, NY
October 26th-November 16th, 2013
Tickets: 800-838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com
More Information: www.pipelinetheatre.org
Running Time: 70 Minutes