The Age of Wordsworth at Southern Theater

Romantic poetry via hard-charging rock

It's not every show where the last thing you hear as the house lights go to black is the tearing of paper as the audience opens their packets of complimentary earplugs, but The Age of Wordsworth definitely isn't an everyday show.

The latest project from Four Humors merges the writing of several legendary Romantic writers with whippin'-the-horns rock 'n' roll. The result? A giddy, infectious, and decidedly odd evening.

The company worked with composer Nicholas Jacobson-Larson to craft a series of songs based on works by or about William Wordsworth and his cronies—Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. There is certainly rocking potential here—the front line features three guitarists—and the band isn't afraid to crank it up.

If they'd had electric guitars in 1770, the poet might be remembered in a very different way
If they'd had electric guitars in 1770, the poet might be remembered in a very different way

Jacobson-Larson's main contribution is a three-part epic based on "We Are Seven," a poem that looks at life and mortality. The tune merges intense and somber verses with a pulsating chorus that sticks in the mind. Elsewhere, the nine-piece band rocks out on works that they've crafted themselves, such as "A Poet's Epitaph" or "To My Sister."

The rocking tunes are interspersed with liberal interpretations of some of the famous pieces written by Wordsworth and his circle of friends and authors. In one, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is transformed into a tale about the poet being haunted by a piece of ugly, mutated writing. In another, Samuel Taylor Coleridge tells the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" as if he were a drunken wedding guest spinning a tale about an adventure he and his best buddy—ol' Billy Wordsworth again—had once on the high seas.

The Age of Wordsworth definitely shows its rough edges. The flow between songs and stories sometimes feels off, with too much time spent away from the instruments in the middle section, leaving the final musical selections feeling rushed.

A sense of danger is part of the thrill in live rock music, but doesn't always work on the stage. Four Humors manages to mostly balance these different expectations in a show that goes to the edge without falling into the abyss. And really, that's where the best view usually is. Playing at the Southern Theater through March 26; 612.340.1725.

I'd like to say that bare, the latest production from plucky Minneapolis Musical Theatre, is a winner. It examines the vital issue of gay teenagers and the specter of suicide.

When the show settles down and really looks hard at its central themes, it shows promise. Those moments are very few and very, very far between in this overlong, turgid piece that can't decide what it wants to be.

Set in a Catholic boarding school, bare deals with two male roommates who have become romantically entangled but need to hide their feelings. Their world begins to break apart when they are a bit more out at a rave. Peter wants to let the world know about their love, while Notre Dame-bound Jason can't face his nature and pushes Peter away at every turn.

Right there is a kernel of a good show, but bare gets so bogged down in subplots and stray characters that we lose sight of the real story. Creators Damon Intrabartolo and Jon Hartmere present 33 (33!) full-length songs, mainly mid-tempo pop numbers interspersed with heartfelt ballads. The sheer amount of music wouldn't be bad if any of it seemed to have character, but all I could hear were the same musical themes over and over again all night.

Beyond the music is the story, which drags in a production of Romeo and Juliet, hints of an eating disorder, rampant drug use, and the Roman Catholic church's dealings with GLBT issues. None of these are done particularly well, with the characters slipping into easy stereotypes (the cynical overweight girl, the school "slut") that more than undercut the serious issues at play in the show's core. Playing at the Illusion Theatre through April 3; 612.339.4944.

 
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