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Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar
Tuesday, July 23 6:30 PM Friday, July 27 10:15 PM
They say: “The Burning of Washington and the Battle of Baltimore come to ear-shattering life in a cycle of original songs performed live by singers, dancers and musicians. Inventive, irreverent, and inspirational, 1814! turns a forgotten war into an unforgettable rock spectacle.”
The Baldacchino Gypsy Tent was swelling with regional pride at Saturday’s steamy performance of 1814! Co-writers and composers David Dudley and David Israel have sent their Rock 1814 Productions troupe to righteously boast about the time our neighbors to northeast stepped up to kick British ass in the Battle of Baltimore not long after we Washingtonians fled a capital in flames. There’s a hell of a lot of showmanship on hand at the Baldacchino, seemingly inspired equally by passion plays, vaudeville and Black Sabbath. Heroic hillbilly irregulars. Redcoats dressed like Hell’s droogs. Big-ass flags. Muskets. The Devil (guess who’s side he’s on?). Sexy majors. Sexy generals. Sexy first ladies. And oh yeah, there’s enough badass loud-as-hell rock n’ roll to leave your eardrums properly traumatized. You know, in that good way.
There’s the rub: The (awesome) music is sometimes so overwhelmingly loud that it threatens the story it is there to support. The sound mix so heavily favors the band that the lyrics for several songs were completely indiscernible. I’ve seen and reviewed several musicals or music-heavy shows in the Baldacchino venue during this year’s festival and 1814 was the first at which I experienced such problems. Much of the story and history behind the rock had to be gleaned either from inter-scene events-so-far text projections or from the folksy narration of Gaines Johnston, who exudes a fine working-class Baltimore charm as the night’s master of ceremonies. Tech issues are not uncommon during Fringe. A hectic, tightly scheduled, often low-tech festival environment carries with it certain risks to which this reviewer is very sympathetic.
Friday’s Baldacchino crowd certainly was enthusiastic and the show received a honest-to-goodness standing ovation. Yet I, and much of the audience, was too often following the action with the aid of a helpfully provided lyric sheet. It’s a big disappointment, especially given that when the lyrics could be discerned Dudley and Israel’s songs were uniformly great.
Beyond the lyrical troubles, there’s a lot to like here. Standout performers include Moira Horowitz and Corey Hennessey as Mary Pickersgill and Major George Armistead, respectively; I’ve been humming the chorus of their centerpiece duet “Big-Ass Flag” since I walked out of the tent. With such great, passionate stagecraft on display, it’s unfortunate that the talented people at Rock 1814 have not yet been able to find a balance between music and storytelling in their venue that would undoubtedly make 1814! a top pick of the festival.
See it if: You’re looking for a raucous, sexy, very loud take on regional history.
Skip it if: You don’t want to have to read along to be able keep up with all the action on stage.