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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Bad Apples

Bad Apples
The Abu Ghraib prison scandal doesn't exactly scream "rock musical." And this one's in three acts, with a running time of nearly three hours. The last three-act musical I know of was written in 1964. And military musicals are almost as rare. So the "whaaaaat?" of Bad Apples' very existence commands attention. The "wow" of its virtuoso execution makes viewing compulsory.

Writer Jim Leonard, with composers Beth Thornley and Rob Cairns, starts with satire. We're in Club Abu, "the biggest party in Baghdad." It's decked out perfectly by designer Francis-Pierre Couture with multiple video screens, a platform stage, and a jutting runway flanked by cabaret seats which lend a festive air. Catwalks along the walls evoke prison and a military encampment. The upper levels also allow the lawyers, politicians, and parents to assert their power with a modicum of fuss.

These vignettes, with brief visits by the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, score easy laughs but few surprises. And the Southern relatives of the character based on the infamous Lynndie England, here named Lyndsay Skinner, are cornpone cliches. But when Bad Apples hones in on the love triangle between Skinner and characters based on two other military personnel, Charles Graner and Megan Ambuhl, it hits all its targets.

The show's highpoint, and the proficient score's best display of true distinction, is when Skinner sings of the strength in "Surrender." The song brilliantly intertwines the sadism in love, army life, and the character's mistreatment of the prisoners. Throughout the nearly three hour running time, Kate Morgan Chadwick manages to sound new notes within Skinner's narrow spectrum of cool control. She's disciplined and head-over-boots in love, remorseless and achingly moving.

The rest of the ensemble performs their multiple roles with the dexterity and precision of a finely tuned drill team. Not everyone can raise the rafters with their voice but that's on point. Rock has always been a genre that puts passion over technical prowess. Here, it roots us in the true-to-life characters, who would pick this style if they were to sing out.

Langs also elicits sterling work from the rest his design team, particularly the lighting and sound design of local heroes Jeremy Pivnick and Cricket S. Myers, respectively. He has not, though, managed to bring discipline to Leonard's script.

The stage and TV vet, who scored an early success thirty years ago with the off-Broadway play The Diviners and has more recently worked on Showtime's Dexter, comes off here as a brazen young talent. That's both commendable and consternating. He's het up with hot anger and a prodigiously fertile mind. But he shoots off his ample arsenal in too many directions.

The first act ends with a blisteringly funny flashback featuring the 9/11 terrorists having their last dinner on 9/10. But no matter how intriguing, every moment away from the central trio seems less than essential. The fractured time-line seems mostly born out of a desire not to make a docu-musical. And it needlessly confuses. Since most of the actors play multiple parts, it sometimes takes a while to know whether someone's changed roles.

Any criticisms of Bad Apples don't spoil the whole bunch of thrills it generates. Whenever the piece gets back to exploring the normalization of sadistic behavior in the military and the domestic front, it feels fresh and necessary. This is the most exciting homegrown new musical in years.

Bad Apples
by Jim Leonard
Music by Beth Thornley and Rob Cairns
Directed by John Langs

Cast: James Black, Kate Morgan Chadwick, Meghan McDonough, Mueen Jahan, Larry Clarke, Erica Ibsen, Mapuana Makia, Ian Merrigan, Lina Patel, Sean Spann and Randolph Thompson.
Produced by Tim Wright and Jennifer A. Skinner
Choreography: Cassandra Daurden
Musical Direction: Beth Thornley and Rob Cairns
Scenic Design: Francois-Pierre Couture
Projection Design: Jason H. Thompson
Lighting Design: Jeremy Pivnick
Sound Design: Cricket S. Myers
Costume Design: Jessica Olson
Props Design: Heather Ho
Stage Manager: Katherine E. Haan
Running time: two hours and fifty minutes with two intermissions
Atwater Village Theatre 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90039 323.644.1929
Return engagement from: January 11 to February 2, 2013
Reviewed by Jon Magaril
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