By Patsy Isenberg
“I was walking down Haight Street in San Francisco when a counterculture douf cornered me/ She had a freshly dyed purple Mohawk, $120 Doc Martin boots on/ In other words, she was wearing about as much equity as I had made this year/And with a wanting look on her pale face she asked me for some change./I said, ‘Change comes from within.’”
Those are some of the lyrics in “Alternateen,” one of 27 original Wally Pleasant songs, performed with entertaining energy during “Songs about Stuff,” a lively revue at The Flint Repertory Theatre (The Rep) for one more weekend this weekend, June 7 through 9.
Pleasant, called by some a “post-punk” folk singer/songwriter, hails from East Lansing. A unique and powerful collaboration between Pleasant, director Michael Lluberes (artistic director of The Rep), four singer/actors (all former or current University of Michigan -Flint students) and a talented group of musicians are on enjoyable display at The Rep this month.
Pleasant’s lyrics are a memorable satire recreating what might have been happening in the lives of young adults in the year 1993. He writes about college, being broke, looking for a job or doing what you hate, craving attention (even from a stalker if it’s your only option), Ted Nugent’s pro-hunting obsession, a young man’s love interest who’s dating a “geek,” the string of Bob Dylan wannabes, even what it’s like being in Denny’s restaurant at 4 a.m., and more.
In a brief interview at The Rep, Pleasant said he got into the humor aspect of what he does before the music and says he thinks he was inspired as a child by listening to his dad’s comedy albums, such as ones by Steve Martin. But he didn’t start playing guitar until he was 14. He later began to show up for open mic nights with a new song each week. He’s recorded seven albums, including one also called “Songs About Stuff,” and he holds an Emmy — so the 27 songs in the show are just some of what he’s written and recorded.
The show at The Rep is its world premiere.
“All winter we [Pleasant and Lluberes] had these writing sessions on Sundays,” Pleasant said, and gives Lluberes credit for conceiving the idea for the show. At first, they’d talked about the songs possibly coming from a guy digging through stuff he finds while cleaning out his garage. But, eventually, the story evolved into what it is now.
Lluberes ran with the idea of presenting this multitude of songs, one right after the other, performed by changing combinations of the four young adult cast members while they loosely illustrate situations from their lives in 1993. Pleasant said that to him “it’s reminiscent of a rock opera.”
Lluberes praises music director Brian Buckner with the smooth transition of musical numbers coinciding with what visually happens on stage while the musicians play their instruments behind the actors.
The cast members, two guys and two girls, don’t have names, just distinct personalities. But all four are unique representatives of young adults in that year, and what was happening in society and maybe their lives in 1993. Pleasant says he tries to write songs that have the impact of “a serious emotion combined with humor.”
One of the male cast members, Joshua M. Cornea, graduated from UM-Flint with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre performance. He’s also received certifications in stage combat from Dueling Arts International and the Society of American Fight Directors. He wants to become a certified fight instructor. One of his solo numbers is “I Want a Stalker.”
Amanda Kuo is working toward her Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting from UM-Flint’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance. She’s originally from Newton, Mass., and wants to move to New York or LA after graduation. She was chosen to read as gymnast Amy Chow in “The Magnificent Seven” at The Rep’s New Works Festival. “The Magnificent Seven” will be presented during The Rep’s signature series in 2020. Will Kuo reprise the role she read in that work last winter? We’ll see. But one of Kuo’s solos in this show is “Alternateen.”
The other male cast member is Gage Webster. This is Webster’s first show with The Rep. He’s currently working toward a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre performance at UM-Flint.
Webster’s plan after graduation is to move to Atlanta to begin a film career. One of his standout numbers in this show is his solo singing of “Two for One Coupon.”
A familiar face and voice in the fourth role is Mary Paige Rieffel. She graduated from UM- Flint with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre performance. Rieffel has appeared in numerous shows in the Flint area. She was seen at The Rep in “Assassins” as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme. She also read parts at the New Works Festival last winter and was the voice of the teacher in “The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died but Teacher You Went Right on.” In addition to performing, Rieffel is one of the instructors at the Flint School of Performing Arts and Flint Repertory Theatre Summer Musical Theatre Camp. One of Rieffel’s memorable solo numbers is “Dead Rock ‘n’ Roll Stars.”
Lluberes directed “Songs about Stuff” and said he welcomes to The Rep this upbeat and energetic musical comedy after a season that included several serious shows. The musicians that accompany the cast on all 27 of these numbers include Brian Buckner on piano in addition to his role as the show’s music director. Playing guitar are David Boze for the May 31-June 8 performances and Erik McIntyre for the June 9 performance. Russ Sauter plays percussion for all performances. Most of the creative and technical work that every show depends upon is provided by experienced professionals that have worked on previous productions.
There are still four performances of “Songs about Stuff” to get tickets for: Fri., June 7 at 8 p.m., Sat., June 8 at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sun., June 9 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for teens and seniors and $8 for college students (College Student Rush Rate with valid I.D., one hour prior to a performance). Genesee County residents receive a 30 percent discount on public performances and subscriptions. Tickets may be purchased through The Ticket Center at 1241 Kearsley St., Flint, MI 48503, 810.237.7333, or through www.FlintRep.org.
EVM Staff Writer Patsy Isenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.