Inappropriate. That's a word that constantly rang in my ears during childhood. I still hear it today. I cannot walk around daily with magenta hair and a tiara without expecting some kind of reaction! But certainly times, and I, have changed since ten years ago. As hard as it was to come of age in the 1980s, being a teenager in the year 2000 is paved with new perils--the Internet, heinous school shootings, the exploitative media--as well as the old standby's--drugs, child abuse, and rape. These problems, and the emotions they evoke, are what Inappropriate, a new musical based on the writings of contemporary teens, is about.
What makes the show--which recently completed its run on Theatre Row and hopes to find a new venue--unique is the fact that it doesn't showcase "professional" actors, but stars troubled teens. These talented adolescents hail from the DeSisto School, a college prep program in the Berkshires dedicated to helping troubled kids. The original idea for the show was conceived by A. Michael DeSisto, the founder and director of the school, and the late Lonnie McNeil, who worked with students in the school's drama program for many years. Together the team wrote, directed, and mounted Inappropriate, but the inspiration clearly comes from the kids.
The show admittedly has a Rent-like quality. In fact there are more than a few similarities. In addition to a cast member who is an Anthony Rapp doppelganger, and the Pat Field/Trash and Vaudeville off-the-rack outfits, at the finale the raw, talented students stand at the foot of the stage and sing right in the audiences' faces, a la Rent's hit "Seasons of Love". But Inappropriate is not based on an opera, but simply on real life--and it shows.
What struck me most about the show was its music. Not just the songs, although many of them, particularly "Real", sung with intense emotion by the supremely talented Diane Schwartz, are quite memorable and moving. All through the evening, the show is bolstered by an incredible, ongoing soundtrack--the score is an integral part of this production, more so than any musical I can think of. The non-stop music mirrors the characters' emotions and also spurs them on to greater heights. Without the music, there would be no piece.
The extremely gifted and versatile group of musicians that provides the music is no ordinary house band. This is not a group of people that accidentally came together to play for the good of a theatrical production. The band that backs Inappropriate is called House of Red. They have been playing together on and off for years now, have just released their first independent CD, and are ready to rock the music world.
But what an odd gig for a rock band--that has played such illustrious New York City clubs as The Bitter End, Shine, and the Bottom Line--to take. How did it happen, I wondered. "Because my best friend, Michael, wrote the show!" exclaims Ann-Marie, the exotic front woman and lyricist of the band.
House of Red has a long and interesting history. All the members come from different places. Keyboardist Sasi Shalom is from Israel, guitarist Ben Butler hails from Australia, bassist Richard Hammond is from New Zealand, drummer Steve Hass is from Greece, and singer Ann-Marie is from the States. Most of the group's members met while attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston, but they did not form the band at that time. Instead, they went their separate ways, ended up in New York City as session musicians and made their respective livings recording music for commercials, theater, and other industry related projects. But after playing on and off together for quite some time, House of Red was officially formed a little over a year and a half ago. "It's the first time since most of us were teenagers that we are in a 'real' band," Butler explains. "It was just the right time and the right group of people."
The bands' long-term history is what gives House of Red such a cohesive feel when they play for Inappropriate, even though none of the music they are playing during the evening is their own. Even though the score of Inappropriate is not exactly House of Red's kind of sound, playing in the show is not just another gig to this group. "We certainly relate to the emotions in the show," Butler comments. "I look back on my youth and of course there was a certain amount of rebellion in all of our lives. But music is what kept me out of getting into real trouble!"
And in essence that is what Inappropriate is doing for its young cast members. Through their energy and creativity, they are able to adhere to a schedule that would exhaust most people! The student performers are tutored during the day, and perform the show at night and on weekends, where the eight cast members dance, sing, and cry their hearts out. Afterwards a van whisks them back to Jersey, where they are temporarily being housed, for more education and discipline.
Although the members of House of Red do not exactly recognize their pasts in the lives of these incredible adolescents, they are often inspired by working with these special kids. In fact, House of Red draws its various inspirations from everywhere--from life, to nature, to the Internet. A tragic story about a little girl dying of cancer that was passed around online inspired "Slow Down", a lyrical song about spending more time actually living. "Have you spun the bottle / and taken every dare / Is it enough you're standing still or do / you need to get somewhere?"
The song titles on the group's self-titled CD seem simple: "Falling Down", "Life", "Us", but they are deceptively so. Ann-Marie is more of a poet than a lyricist; her lyrics are driven by emotions and full of intricate descriptions rather than empty, exploitative sayings like many contemporary rock lyrics. The music is mostly written by Ann-Marie, Butler, and Shalom, although the entire band contributes, and ranges from folk to funk, with everything in between. In fact, the members' extensive musical training and industry history have given the band a solid base. They are capable of every style, and the CD displays immense versatility and a wonderful eclectic quality. That's why a gig like playing for Inappropriate fits right in with House of Red's diverse background.
This month House of Red plans to return to the studio to start on its second album. In the meantime, every member of the band has various outside projects, but they are all committed to returning to the band. House of Red is their home, a place for them to create and explore their musical and artistic instincts with absolutely no boundaries.
House of Red's CDs can be ordered through CDBaby.com and www.billboardtalentnet.com.