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Many students spend their senior year writing a thesis; but how many seniors do you know who write a thesis and a musical? Meet John Baxindine '00, the writer and composer of Antonelli's, a full-scale "Musical Mob Scene" that went up at the Agassiz last weekend.
Antonelli's has all the elements of a 1940s film-noir tale: vampy dames, a seedy speakeasy, and a host of slick mobsters and other sundry paisans. The story centers around lounge singer Barbara Goldman (Jessica Kirshner '01), who is kind of blue that her FBI agent boyfriend Charles Redmond (Nick Adams '03) spends more time at the office tracking down mobsters than he does with her. When she's offered a cushy job performing at the mob-run restaurant Antonelli's, the feisty "Bar" takes the offer in hopes that her inside scoop on The Family will help her man snag a mob boss or two-and help her snag his attention. But Bar doesn't count on the relationship that develops between herself and Don Antonelli's wily nephew Bill (Matt Romero '02), a Princeton-educated mobster with a heart of gold. This cursory plot summary barely covers the first half of the first act: the rest of the show is taken up by characters second-guessing and double-crossing each other left and right, all to the tune of faux swing hits and blues standards. Add to this complicated plotline a sizeable cast of characters and a multitude of musical numbers (from a musical period that's not that difficult to do but pretty damn difficult to do well) and you've got one ambitious project.
The cast and crew of Antonelli's seem up to the challenge of the swing-era musical: lighting and staging are solid (although there were some opening night snafus), the acting is believable if slow-paced, the onstage band (led by Jon Dinerstein '01) is enthusiastic and the singing is often enjoyable (especially from Kirschner, who's got the chanteuse thing down, when you can hear her).
Unfortunately, there's one major flaw in the production and his name is Brecht. For what would a musical from the mind of a Harvard student be without a dash of the self-aware, of meta-theater? According to the program notes, the show was originally intended to (nudge-nudge) "undercut itself and criticize its own genre, a film-noir that constantly threatens to take a sharp left at the road to reality." There is an incessant riffing on the stereotypes of "good guy" and "bad guy" and on the formulaic nature of film-noir movies in general. Such an idea is ingenious in theory but difficult to pull off in practice, particularly within the confines of musical theater. Essentially, Antonelli's tries so hard to simultaneously revel in and revile its swing-era campiness that it ends up doing neither. Who should we cheer for? Who is fooling whom? The musical plays with the audience a little too much, so confusing them that they become disinterested.
Watching a musical requires a certain willing suspension of disbelief: real people don't actually burst into song or ham it up as much as people in musicals do and audience members accept that in exchange for snappy, sappy songs, witty dialogue and the sheer entertainment value of it all.
Antonelli's questions that entire scheme in questioning the entire film-noir genre. What's the answer it comes up with? You'd have to have seen the show to decide that for yourself.
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