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A Sleek, Chilling 'Hydrogen Jukebox'

Skylight's performance of the Glass-Ginsberg opera

Mar. 19, 2014
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Artistic Director Viswa Subbaraman continues his bold debut season at Skylight Music Theatre with Hydrogen Jukebox, marking the theater’s first Philip Glass opera production. It runs through March 30; I attended the opening performance.

A meditation on American 1950s-’80s social issues, Hydrogen Jukebox (1990) centers on the sexual revolution, eastern religion, the war against drugs, and the anti-war and gay rights movements.

Theodore Huffman’s direction gives the work a sleek yet chilling darkness, where bare walls capture projections ranging from atomic bomb clouds to Allen Ginsberg’s explosive verse. In this mostly serious production, mockingly masked President Reagan and George H. W. Bush elicited the evening’s only laughter in “CIA Dope Calypso.”

The orchestra performed in lock-step precision and the cast delivered words and music with coolness and ease. Projected texts help the audience digest Ginsberg’s ravishing, dense poetry, something left wanting in Glass’s setting. “Father Death Blues” showcases the ensemble sensitivity of the six-member cast, as their velvet-laced trios interweave in an unaccompanied Buddhist prayer, continually blooming inward to a single voice.

Exciting things are happening at the Skylight and Milwaukee audiences have a brave champion of engaging works at the helm. To Mr. Subbaraman: more, please.

Skylight is located at 158 N. Broadway. For tickets to Hydrogen Jukebox, call 414-291-7800 or visit skylightmusictheatre.org.


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