Thursday, February 15, 2024

"Mood Swings: An Exploration of the Concept Albums of Frank Sinatra" by Buzz Music Theater at the Hive Collaborative

When I chatted* with Laura Rudolph Morris and Eric Morris, new owners of The Hive Collaborative (the sweet intimate St. Paul theater space formerly known as Dreamland Arts) and co-founders of Buzz Music Theater, Eric talked about his love of the concept album, from Frank Sinatra to Taylor Swift, as the perfect intersection of pop culture and theater. Now he's bringing that idea to the stage in the first of four events in a series they're calling "Conceptual Beginnings." In Mood Swings: An Exploration of the Concept Albums of Frank Sinatra, Eric sings some two dozen songs as a sort of song cycle around the themes of "relationships and the human experience." We do indeed go on "an emotional roller coaster" over the course of an hour, in a theatrical expression of classic songs from the American Songbook, from the Gershwins to Cole Porter. It's a fun evening that expands the idea of music-theater. But hurry, this short run concludes on Monday.

Eric Morris and "friends" (with Luke Aaron Davidson)
(photo by Rick Spaulding)
Mood Swings combines two of Sinatra's 50+ albums, both released in the mid '50s. According to Wikipedia, In the Wee Small Hours contains songs about "introspection, melancholy, lost love, failed relationships, depression and night life," while Songs for Swingin' Lovers! is full of "swinging uptempo numbers." Mood Swings is a good title for this piece, because the full range of emotion is explored, from the highs of new love to the lows of breakups. He's playing a character and the songs tell a story, but not in a clearly defined linear way (there's no dialogue), rather in giving an impression of a man who's in love, or disgusted with love, or somewhere in between. This isn't a super serious piece, it's more playful, and Eric is at times funny, tender, angry, and heart-broken. He has a fantastic and powerful voice, and he really shows all colors of it in these songs, from a soft murmur to a strong belt, and everything in between. Music Director Luke Aaron Davidson accompanies him on the piano, and also plays a bit of a sidekick role, interacting and even singing a bit.

Eric Morris (photo by Rick Spaulding)
Directed by Joey Miller, the show makes great use of the space at The Hive. Eric is all over the stage (that's not really a stage) - slouched on a chair against the wall listening to an album, in the back corner singing to a suit coat (representing a person), even singing as he walks off stage or down the stairs. He mostly sings without a microphone (not needed with that voice in that space), except when he grabs a mic stand for a few "performance" numbers. A mid-Century era chaise lounge, a small table, and some chairs pulled from the audience help to create little vignettes for the songs, each one of which is a mini story in itself. The over two dozen songs are put together well in a way that creates a full arc of a story, sometimes flowing from one to the other without a pause.

Buzz Music Theater is creating a unique space for themselves, going beyond the bounds of traditional musical theater. The remaining events in the "Conceptual Beginnings" include the classical song cycle Winterreise by Austrian composer Franz Schubert (one can only hope they'll sing it in German), a release concert for Monica Livorsi's All About Jane album, and Ella Fitzgerald singing Irving Berlin. The Hive is also hosting 16-Bar Bingo on the last Monday of every month. I attended the inaugural event with my Twin Cities Theater Blogger friends, and we had a great time. Combining trivia and "name that tune" with live performance, it's a super fun and casual night of singing, celebrating musicals, and being with community, with snacks and prizes!

See you at The Hive!

*You can listen to my conversation with Eric and Laura here, or by searching "Twin Cities Theater Chat" on your favorite podcast app.