Here’s a suggestion for you when you see On the Eve, which has just three more performances (out of just 10 total) this weekend: Sit through the opening number. If you aren’t instantly dazzled by the music, style and energy, bolt. And say a prayer for yourself. Because what Nouveau 47 and Spacegrove Productions are doing over at Fair Park’s Margo Jones Theater inside the Magnolia Lounge is a dazzling bit of stagecraft. But if you don’t like it from the get-go, you never will. And that would be sad.
Sitting in the 50-seat space, watching the likes of Gregory Lush and Jenny Ledel and Seth Magill dash around a stage that looks like a shabby three-ring circus, is as hypnotically captivating as anything I’ve seen in a long while. It feels as if you are at the birth of Spring Awakening or Rent or Godspell, watching magic come to life. You might be compelled to lay frankincense and myrrh at the box office when you leave.
Still, I’ll be damned if I can tell you just what On the Eve is about — because it’s kind of about everything. Does it help to say a time-traveling rock star beds Marie Antoinette just as Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier invent the hot air balloon while a statue comes to life? I didn’t think so. Plot be damned: On the Eve is about nothing short of the creative process itself — the sacrifices and failures and repeated mistakes that infuse every aspect of our lives, and have throughout history, as we try to make an impact on the lives of others. If it sounds heady, it’s anything but.
This original musical — with a book by Dallas actor Michael Federico and score by Shawn and Seth Magill — has a carnival atmosphere and a funky soundtrack that recalls Passing Strange. The Talking Man (Lush) — a character “who comments but does not create” (a dig at theater critics, perhaps?) — narrates a story he has told countless times before. Only this time out, the characters themselves are in revolt: Why does everything have to be as it was? Can’t we change things up? What gives you (what gives anyone?) the right to say what was must be?
The large cast, many of whom act, sing and play a musical instrument, is filled corner to corner with stellar folks who bring a delirious joy to the event: Seth Magill is sexy and charming as the Zaphod Beeblebroxish leading man, while his wife Shawn pounds out on the piano like a maniac and daughter Tara portrays just about every child in the story to perfection. Lush is wonderful as always (he should try doing The MC in Cabaret one day — he’s be great) and Ledel, with her Claire Danes-esque air of woozy enchantment scores again. Ian Ferguson as a dumb-ass King Louis XVI, Brian Witkowicz as the tortured inventor and Maryam Baig as the defiant statue are all great as well.
It’s just too bad the show has such a limited run. I have a feeling that won’t be the case eventually. With a score that deserves its own cast recording already, and a finale so beautifully tailored to the space by director Jeffrey Schmidt that it transforms you, On the Eve is destined to become a cult hit, a show the lucky few who see it will talk about for years.