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Review: ‘Metropolis’ at Constellation Theatre Company

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Percussion and film enthusiasts, listen up! For five nights only, Constellation Theatre Company presents a unique combination of the silent-film Metropolis set to a new score by renowned percussionist Tom Teasley.

Tom Teasley. Photo by Chi-Chi Charlie Chang.

Tom Teasley. Photo by Chi-Chi Charlie Chang.

Metropolis, the 1927 sci-fi film by German filmmaker Fritz Lang, is considered one of the most influential and iconic films of all time. Set in the year 2026, Metropolis tells the story of a dystopian future in which upper and working classes are at odds and a mediator is needed to keep them from destroying each other. The story is especially resonant in the aftermath of last week’s US election and I watched the entire film with a sense that “everything old really is new again.”

As I read about the event prior to attending, I was curious how world music and percussion would sync with a film whose original score was composed (by Gottfried Huppertz) for a large orchestra and influenced by German composers like Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. Well, in my research, I discovered that numerous musicians have created their own scores for this film, including one especially curious sounding recording made in 1984 by 80s pop stars including Adam Ant, Loverboy and Pat Benatar. Clearly, this was a film that lent itself to diverse musical interpretation!

Tom Teasley’s music – and his performance – were spellbinding from the get-go. In creating a soundtrack that uses both contemporary and traditional sounds, Teasley has found a way to bring immediacy to an already fascinating film. Performing to one side of Constellation’s large movie screen, he was surrounded by a myriad of percussion instruments ranging from the traditional (acoustic rig, bamboo flute, melodica and aquasonic) to the contemporary (electric keyboard, Kaoss pad, Handsonic synthesizer and a looping pedal). He masterfully blended the sounds of old and new instruments in a performance that clearly consumed his entire being and transported the black-box theater space to a higher aural plane.

Parts of the composition were clearly composed to coincide with moments in the film: Teasley played a flute along with the Grim Reaper in one scene, he replicated the sound of the steam pouring out off factory pipes in another, and his drums beat along with main character’s beating heart when he first set eyes on his love interest. Many other moments of the show, however, were improvisational in the style of jazz masters like Miles Davis or percussionist Mickey Hart.

Tom Teasley performing Metropolis. Photo by Daniel Schwartz.

Tom Teasley performing Metropolis at Constellation Theatre Company. Photo by Daniel Schwartz.

Teasley stays onstage for a very informative question and answer session after the performance. This discussion was fascinating for me as a lay-person and I believe it would be even more interesting to percussionists.

The Constellation team did a good job with the staging for this event. The projection screen took up the entire back wall of the theater, allowing for an easy viewing experience while Teasley’s percussion set-up was placed to the right so viewers could take in the startling visuals of the film while simultaneously witnessing the performance of this mesmerizing new soundtrack.

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Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.

Metropolis plays through tomorrow, November 19, 2016, at Constellation Theatre Company performing at Source – 1835 14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 204-7741, or purchase them online.

LINK:
Interview: Tom Teasley on his Percussion Composition for ‘Metropolis’ playing at Constellation Theatre Company through November 19th by Nicole Hertvik.

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Tom Teasley describes his music:

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