Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Unfortunates Brings Soulful Blues to A.C.T.'s Strand Theatre

Posted By on Tue, Feb 16, 2016 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge CJ (Christopher Livingston), Big Joe (Ian Merrigan), and Coughlin (Jon Beavers) face the horrors of war - KEVIN BERNE
  • Kevin Berne
  • CJ (Christopher Livingston), Big Joe (Ian Merrigan), and Coughlin (Jon Beavers) face the horrors of war

Sometimes, a show suits a setting so well that it takes on the characters and personality of hte place where it is performed. Such has been the case with The Unfortunatesthe latest production to hit the stage of A.C.T.’s Strand Theater. Based on the mysterious blues classic, “The St. James Infirmary,” and originally developed as a Midnight Project at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the soulful darkly comic musical tracks POW Big Joe, who relies on music and community to find the courage to face his final moments before a firing squad. In the seconds before Joe’s execution, he is knocked unconscious and falls into an Alice-in-Wonderland dream world inhabited by a community of misfits who help him rise to greater strength through song.

Director Shana Cooper has been with the production since its start, and has seen The Unfortunates take shape as it has been re-developed for San Francisco. A.C.T. has supported a rigorous re-development of the show — something that Cooper finds exciting.

“The script has substantially evolved [and] the story is much sharper, allowing the music to really soar,” said Cooper, who has likened the process to making the musical all over again.

“One of the things that I’ve been really struck by is how much The Unfortunates is a testimony to the power of music, and perhaps more importantly to community,” said Cooper. “Something about this incarnation taps into that. There’s a whole new opening where you meet the community of people. It really helps frame the journey as one in which the power of music enables Joe’s life and our lives to be defined by joy and not by fear and the inner strength we can find in community.”

The production began with a series of cross-country voicemails between creators Jon Beavers, Casey Hurt, Ian Merrigan and Ramiz Monsef, who pulled from their diverse musical backgrounds, (which include hip hop, blues, folk, and the Pentecostal church) to create what Cooper calls “a scattered compilation of beautiful musical moments.” OSF supported the development of the piece, Kristoffer Diaz joined to help evolve the book, and The Unfortunates premiered at OSF in 2013.

In addition to featuring surprisingly bold music unlike anything Cooper has ever seen, the production is also a visual spectacle. Inspired by the landscapes of graphic novels, it exudes what Cooper describes as, “a sort of beautiful strangeness, reminiscent of a Tim Burton movie.” While the execution of this is one of the production’s biggest challenges, for Cooper, it is also one of the biggest rewards.

click to enlarge Koko (Eddie Lopez), Preacher (Arthur Wise), Madame (Danielle Herbert), Roxy (Lauren Hart), Handsome Carl (Amy Lizardo), and Rae (Taylor Iman Jones) mourn the deaths of CJ (left, Christopher Livingston) and Coughlin (Jon Beavers) - KEVIN BERNE
  • Kevin Berne
  • Koko (Eddie Lopez), Preacher (Arthur Wise), Madame (Danielle Herbert), Roxy (Lauren Hart), Handsome Carl (Amy Lizardo), and Rae (Taylor Iman Jones) mourn the deaths of CJ (left, Christopher Livingston) and Coughlin (Jon Beavers)

“The scenes that are the most moving are where the full cast is on stage, pouring their incredibly gorgeous voices into this music about facing conflict, tragedy and loss with faith,” says Cooper. “This piece speaks to a way of understanding the challenges that we face with our hearts when we can’t with our minds. You feel that in every tenor of their voices and element of their physicality. It’s just a beautiful group of people.”

Cooper is particularly excited to see the cast performing in this specific location. “I’m continually struck by how much the community of The Unfortunates resonates with the community of the Tenderloin. It’s lucky that this is the place we’ve landed, especially in the opening season of The Strand, which has really been resurrected in the middle of the Tenderloin to be a haven for art.”

Cooper’s hope is that the show will resonate with and develop an ongoing community of people in San Francisco who will come to know the production and bond through the power of its music.

The Unfortunates, through April 10 at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater: 1127 Market St.


  • Pin It

Tags: , , ,

About The Author

A. K. Carroll

Comments


Comments are closed.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook

Slideshows

  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"