The first ten minutes of MUSIC AND ME are not the best. The performers seem taut, the energy ricocheting in different direction across a very large and somewhat scattered set, and the opening rap solo, although good, doesn’t offer the context that it promises.
Luckily, once the initial awkwardness is past, the story and the actors come into their own.
It’s not an unfamiliar story: abuse, desperation, abandonment – these are issues that our society and our people face every day in different guises – but Victoria Schmidt’s multi-genre work brings a familiar face to what is often seen in the media as somebody else’s problem.
This is a moving story of two young youngsters trying to break out of the cycle of hopelessness and live a life that is not determined by the judgment of others – even those whom they’ve considered friends. Schmidt’s storyline is simple and yet it is far from a simple story.
Ricky (Aisea Latu) and Alex (Jessica Ieli Tuivaiti) are best friends, united as they combat drug abuse, homelessness, the desire to steal (sometimes just a ham so as to have a proper Christmas) and a world that doesn’t believe in second chances. They are joined by the transient, crippled Mr J (Junior Misimoa) who is their moral compass, often didactic but mostly endearing and the lone voice who supports the distrusted youth, and the highly camp hair dressers Deshanel(Raukawa Tuhura) and Troy (Darren Taniue) whose salon provides the perfect nexus for much of the action.
The story is heartfelt, the performers good – particularly Tuivaiti and Misimoa – and although not brilliant, the set, costume and lighting designs serve the story well enough. However, despite these strengths the work is occasionally compromised by a range of factors that prevent it from being exceptional in its current incarnation.
The most obvious of these is in the direction. Running at almost 90 minutes the performance is a tad too long and splintered by a meandering narrative that lacks the momentum to ensure the story is propelled forward at the pace it deserves. The actors, while clearly talented, often appear to be struggling to maintain the pace and energy, dropping into troughs of inaudible confessional whispers or alternating it with shouting matches that serve to alienate rather than engage.
Furthermore, clumsy and unimaginative blocking works against developing dynamic relationships on stage between the characters, causing some of the segues to be much longer than they need to be.
While the majority of the accents are excellent, the highly exaggerated American affectation that is adopted is very distracting from what is otherwise a good performance by Tuhura and the choreography inserted at somewhat random moments seems to be there for no better reason than to stage a bit of feel-good moment. If MUSIC AND ME is an attempt at a fertilization between drama and musical it is yet in its embryonic phase.
However, despite these issues the writing itself has moments of poignancy (notably Tuivati’s second solo rap which is admirably delivered) and although Schmidt occasionally descends into didactic phrases that appear heavily forced and out of character, it is nevertheless evocative and colloquial.
The metaphor of the dancer twirling to a tune that gives her ‘no freedom’ is overdone and although it initially demonstrates potential, it unfortunately becomes clichéd and somewhat ironic, almost an excuse for accepting the treatment meted out by an unforgiving world.
Yet amidst the desolation, friendship seems to endure. Despite compromise and lies, forgiveness – the play argues – enables us to move forward. Somewhat convoluted towards the rather ambiguous end (we are not sure if justice is ever dealt or individuals held accountable), what is apparent is that ultimately the truth is important, especially between friends, and this can serve to transform not only how we live but how we see ourselves living in our world.
A Kinetic Wayfinding Theatre production, MUSIC AND ME is an excellent example of bringing local stories to the stage in creative and powerful ways and is essential for audiences, across Auckland, to see, hear and – most importantly – to feel them.
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