Pop Up Musical: Songs for the short-attention-span era
Image courtesy the Producing House
VH1's Pop-Up Videos was first broadcast in 1996 -- ancient history in pop-culture terms. So it does seem like the latest offering from the Producing House is a bit behind the curve. Then again, the VH1 show got a revival in 2011, so perhaps this production is just catching the nostalgia wave.
Just like its TV ancestor, Pop Up Musical presents hits mixed in with bits of trivia about the tune, the composers, and the singers. In this case, the songs are drawn from the Broadway songbook. The performers are talented locals. And the "pop ups" are decidedly low-tech: just cardstock signs held up by singers during each of the songs.
It's a fun and often funny production that also showcases the skills of the singers. Running the gamut from classic numbers from the likes of Guys and Dolls to more modern shows (Rent and Wicked), the show has the four performers belting out the classics, while funny -- or at least unexpected -- bits of trivia are loaded into our brains.
These can be direct references (who wrote what when) or more oblique ones. During "Luck be a Lady" we learn not only the history of fuzzy dice, but that they are illegal to hang from the rear-view mirror of a car in Minnesota. Others can be personal references to the actors, or even the occasional plea about the music. At the top of the "Tonight Quintet" from West Side Story it is noted that the piece actually has seven parts, making it a particular challenge for the four performers on stage. (They nailed it.)
The performing quartet -- Jennifer Eckes, Judi Gronseth, Kevin Werner Hohlstein, and Timm Holmly -- first presented the show at last year's Minnesota Fringe Festival. It earned strong reviews, and sold out three of its five performances. The low-key Fringe approach is still present in the current incarnation. The signs, with the exception of the song titles, are all handwritten and held on music stands.
That led to a near disaster opening night, when a whole pile was knocked off of Gronseth's stand. The singer, thankfully not performing at that moment, had to scramble to get them back into some kind of order while Hohlstein playfully covered up her activities with her own sign.
While the low-tech vibe is endearing, the show could use a few upgrades. The taped music is okay at present, but should really be switched to live performers -- at the very least a piano -- before the show moves on. The production is also lacking a bit of shape. I'm not looking for a plot -- this is a revue, through and through -- but the songs seemed to be more of a hodgepodge than actually building to a conclusion.
Then again, the quick show certainly doesn't wear out its welcome, especially as long as the singing is good and the laughs are present.
IF YOU GO
Pop Up Musical
7 p.m. Thursdays in May
Jerome Hill Auditorium
180 E. Fifth St., St. Paul
For tickets and information, visit online.
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