Ars Nova presents the world premiere of ‘Rags Parkland Sings The Songs Of The Future’

(from Left to Right): Rick Burkhardt, Jessie Linden, Andrew R. Butler, Stacey Sargeant, Debbie Christine Tjong & Tony Jarvis. Photo: Ben Arons
(from Left to Right): Rick Burkhardt, Jessie Linden, Andrew R. Butler, Stacey Sargeant, Debbie Christine Tjong & Tony Jarvis. Photo: Ben Arons

It’s 2318 or thereabouts.  The United States is divided into Republics, Mars and the Moon colonized and technology restricted by law.  Despite everything, music survives! – thanks to Rags Parkland (Andrew R. Butler) and his show, Rags Parkland Sings The Songs Of The Future.  Rags is appearing nightly thru November 3, 2018 at Ars Nova in this provocative, thoroughly entertaining musical.

Developed over an eight-year period at Ars Nova via ANT Fest and workshops, Butler’s book, music and lyrics are set in Richmond’s Over/Under Club run by saxophonist Gill (Tony Jarvis).  It’s a both a return engagement and return to Earth for Rags, back from serving time in a Mars penal colony.  The reason why is revealed in flashback to the night Rags last performed there with his beloved, lead singer Beaux Waters (Stacey Sargeant), accordionist Rick (Rick Burkhardt), guitarist Ess Pinvint (Debbie Christine Tjong) and drummer Devo (Jessie Linden).  Potential trouble isn’t rioting or lack of a liquor license, but from Beaux and the band (minus Rags and Gill) being robots, “Constructeds.”  With the exception of Devo’s sweet “clacking” percussive language, director Jordan Fein doesn’t do anything extra marking them as “different”:  they behave naturally and perform wholeheartedly..  The musical makes a convincing concert.

There is no explanation of why “illegal intelligences” are outlawed, but it seems one or more of Isaac Asimov’s Three Rules of Robotics were violated.  Though I Robot is never mentioned, those Rules are:

  1.  A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.”

The Constructeds’ real and existential troubles are the same Philip K. Dick’s robots encounter; so is the crumbled American Empire described in any number of dystopian classics.  Yet rather than being being imitative, these nods enhance Rags Parkland.  The sci-fi rooted in unfolding contemporary events is never played for musical comedy.

What is played during the 90-minute musical is a kick-ass 13-song set list.  Butler and the musician/actors contributors the score play a wonderful mix of rock, jazz, blues and torch songs.  At one point, Rags asks the audience if they’ve heard of Woody Guthrie; very few hands went up in the sold-out audience.  No matter, they do now.

Andrew R. Butler’s Rags is a born troubadour.  Stacey Sargeant’s Beaux is a powerful presence with a powerhouse voice.  Tony Jarvis’ Gill is an attentive host and friend whose sax solos provide the fire in the music.  Musician/Constructeds Rick Burkhardt, Debbie Christine Tjong and Jessie Linden add to the fun and gravitas of their situation.

While Broadway plays it safe with jukebox musicals and movies-into-musicals Rags Parkland Sings The Songs Of The Future sings for its life – and wins.

Rags Parkland Sings The Songs Of The Future opened on October 15, 2018 and runs through November 3, 2018 at Ars Nova (511 West 54th Street, NYC). It is recommended to purchase tickets in advance on Ars Nova’s website.

Over/Under Unplugged, a free concert series, follows select Friday evening performances. 

October 19: Andrew R. Butler & Friends featuring Butler, Mike Brun, Tony Jarvis, and Debbie Christine Tjong with proceeds benefiting National Network of Abortion Funds.

October 26: Rick Burkhardt & Members of the Campfire Requiem Band including Burkhardt, Dennis Kozee, Elias Spector-Zabuskyand Brad Wilson with donations benefiting The Trevor Project. 

November 2: Stacey Sargeant will perform a concert version of her one-woman-hip-hop-musical, Buh Wha’ Trouble Is Dis? (or The Exhumation of MC Spice), with proceeds going towards The National Eating Disorders Association.  

Concerts are free.  Reservations are encouraged.

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