In his own singular musical fashion, Tom Teasley skillfully hooked his Constellation Theatre Company audience to take a venture to the long ago and far away but in a most modern manner. Teasley was a disarming presence as played his engrossing original World Music score in a choreographed dance duet with the landmark 1926 animated silent film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed – a film by Lotte Reininger.
So what is Reininger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed about? It is based upon aspects of the folk tales contained within The Arabian Nights such as Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp and The Seven Voyages of Sindbad the Sailor. Even more, Prince Achmed is a one-of-a-kind, first animated movie feature composed of cardboard cut-out figures, landscapes and architectural vistas. But it is no cartoon. Better to consider it a full-length graphic novel with multiple chapters.
To compose her animated feature, Reininger’s moved by hand her cardboard figures, frame-by-frame before a camera and a light source into a magical lantern show. In its own way it was a precursor to Disney’s Fantasia, and the Claymation animation that some may recall from their youth sitting in front of a television.
Teasley’s score and performance became the voice for Prince Achmed and his many animated cut-out cohorts. Teasley was Fred Astaire to Reiniger’s Ginger Rogers in a non-stop 80 minute thoroughly synchronized performance. The casually-attired Teasely was an expressive figure in his energetic yet smooth, live collaboration with the now nearly 90 year old puppet-like, silhouetted figures of The Adventures of Prince Achmed. More on that deeper into this review.
The original World Music score by Teasley more than matched what was projected on the screen. His music added appropriate powerful oomph, tender sensuality, and charming humor. The music was a symphony of the delicate or fraught with distress, dreamy or urgent, and even, at times with added mysteriously electronically distorted voices, not unlike a small choral group.
As my eyes gazed at the big screen drinking in the flickering images, I was also able to fix my eyes on Teasley using every limb of his body and the breath from his lungs to add colorful texture to the projected images. He was part of and not separate from the evening’s visual allure He was clearly in some great physical shape to do all he did without appearing breathless or winded.
Musician Teasley performed his original score using over a dozen instruments as he sat surrounded by his equipment in a small area at audience right of the large screen. He played what well over a dozen different acoustic, electronic and wind-blown instruments including the Tabla, a tambourine, flutes, an electronic drum, a keyboard, cymbals, gongs and bells, a Melodica and more.
As for Reininger’s animated cut-out characters, they are myriad in number and type. Some figures are delicate, if not almost lace-like. Others are thick-set and chunky. Some characters appear wistful and weightless feel while others have a burly, heavy presence on the screen. As the Constellation program notes say, they “are wonderfully expressive in their movement.” They are not “just” flat cut-outs. Each has its own easily recognizable personality. Each has eyes, mouth and articulating fingers that gave off a real felt joy, anger, fear and comic intent. At the night I attended, the audience was in immediate reaction to the projected figures with laughter, or sucked in breaths.
The Prince Ached movie is full of tricksters and transformations, bombast and quieter moments. There are magicians, witches, flying horses, demons, bats, magical flying creatures, stormy seas, marching bands, harems and sensual bathing women along with wonderfully depicted ancient Middle Eastern architecture. The rights for the film were secured by Milestone Films founders Dennis Doros and Amy Heller.
Reininger’s nearly 100 year old print also featured color tinting with distinctive saturation background colors of golden hues and orange shades adding another layer of interest to the film’s black-and-white visual feast. One note, the projected film had original title cards in the original German without further English translation. Certainly the moving images and Teasley’s music were a good translator.
Now, if you are not familiar with Teasley from his previous work with Constellation or the Folger, you have just a few more performances of Prince Achmed to see him at the Source venue before he travels to Korea for the State Department in October. Then he will then return to the DC area. Teasley is a WAMA Washington Area Music Award recipient and a multiple Helen Hayes Awards recipient for his work with Constellation Theatre.
I thoroughly enjoyed spending a quickly passing splendid evening with Tom Teasley and The Adventures of Prince Achmed. It was a unique collaboration especially with the “fantasy world music hybrid combining traditional Arabic music with American Jazz” that Teasley composed and performed. With the movie and the music, the audience was totally fueled to engage with Teasley in a very interactive post-show discussion.
As I learned from an earlier interview and at a lively interactive question-and-answer period that followed the Prince Achmed screening, Teasley’s musical composition was based upon his “tours to the Middle East as a cultural envoy for the U.S. Department of State for historic collaborations in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jerusalem and others.”
One final note: The Washington, DC area considers itself a world-class city. What more lively way to engage in what world class can mean than at the screening of The Adventures of Prince Achmed featuring Tom Teasley in the ever-changing, most walkable neighborhood that is the 14th Street near U Street corridor.
Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.
The Adventures of Prince Achmed plays through August 15, 2015 at Constellation Theatre Company, performing at Source – 1835 14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 204-7741, or purchase them online.