Music & Lyrics by Elliah Heifetz
Book by Abigail Carney
Directed by Srda Vasiljevic
Choreography by Jennifer Jancuska
Exuberance! Stomping on the porch! Folksy sensibilities! Magical realism in the form of fruit! “Dust Can’t Kill Me” is a strange, high-soaring bird of a show. On paper, it’s a story about a band of misfits journeying through a Dust Bowl on the way to a paradise they hope to find. In reality, it’s more of a concert play that dances around every fringe of folk music–there’s some singer songwriter-y stuff, some indie rock, some waify indie pop sounds, a little bit of country, more than a pound of gospel.
The whole thing has the air of a folk band that decided to put on a show–the same ensemble is on stage almost the whole time, and their instruments (they play the music, too) rarely leave their hands, let alone the stage. Backup harmonies are ever-present, raucous foot stomping in the background is common. You can tell the cast is having unadulterated fun singing together, and gosh, that counts for something big.
That said, for all the youthful energy, there’s an equal measure of haziness–as much fun as it is to watch the band perform the gorgeous music, the scenes that tie them together feel underdeveloped. The misfits come together with framing stories I didn’t really understand until I inferred information later in the show, and the magical realist elements that come into play later on just feel half baked and vague. I appreciate the soul and heart the show is going for–but sometimes it feels like the plot is imitating the kind of story it actually wants to be. Plot points are performed with conviction, but feel loose and disconnected. The indie-style poetry apparent in the song lyrics translates to the script as a sort of attempt on a millennial Tennessee Williams script. When I played mental catch up, I think I understood what the show was trying to do, but even so, I can’t help but feel like the beautiful songs are more reflections on general sentiments hinted at in the story, rather than part of a cohesive musical.
Here’s your point-by-point on what stood out:
- Gosh this ensemble has fun. And because of that, they’re quite fun to watch. There’s lots of swinging and big-hearted scurrying around, ducking and weaving around the guitar and soldier-boy-style hanging drum.
- The choreography–which feels a bit like a long-running uplifting music video, if that makes sense (See: Mumford and Sons?) is inventive and playful. It was done by Jennifer Jancuska.
- The scenic design invokes an outdoor concert, the kind of gig where the band feels more like family. Raggedy wooden panels and hanging backyard lights, with a lo-fi lighting setup to match. (Scenic design is by Reid Thompson, Lights are by Oliver Wason.)
WHAT IT’LL GET NOMINATED FOR:
- OUTSTANDING SCENIC DESIGN.
- OUTSTANDING MUSIC.
- OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE.
WHERE IT’LL GO:
Gosh, I would love for this show to go somewhere. The music is worth it. It’d go great in an Off-broadway house. Right now, it feels like the show it sitting with one leg in Musical Theater Land and another foot in Concert Play. Things could go either way, but for my money–the concert aesthetic is so apparent already. Double down on the book scenes–figure out how to make them feel alive without leaning on the songs. Clear up the plot; bring us in a little more. A little Dramaturgy would go a long way. But regardless–keep singing.
For more information, visit: http://nymf.org/festival/2016-events/dustcantkillme/