By Jacqueline Monahan

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Recycled Percussion: Pound for Pound, the Best Beat Around at Studio 54

Being in the audience at a Recycled Percussion performance brings to mind the fast-paced Todd Rundgren song with lyrics that declare:  “I don’t want to work; I just want to bang on the drum all day.”

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Recycled Percussion Band Leader, Justin Spencer

A September 7th performance included members of the media – literally – began with attendees each being given a drumstick, assigned a color (black, red, green or blue) and sent to pick out their “instrument” from one of four color-coded trunks.  Contents included plastic buckets, metal sink bowls, oxygen tanks, cake pans, carburetors, and hub caps.  I may have even seen a bedpan.
 
Only the props are old; the technique is original.  Combining high energy percussion with DJ spinning/mixing capabilities and electric guitar riffs, the beat-driven quartet invites the audience to participate (loudly) throughout the performance.

The show is so interactive that audience members get to play almost as much as the four guys who comprise Recycled Percussion.  Video screen prompts let you know when to bang, for how long, and what rhythm – all color-coded of course.

“Band” members are Justin Spencer, percussionist/drummer/band leader; Jimmy Magoon, electric guitarist; Ryan Vezina,
percussionist/drummer; and Todd Griffin aka DJ Pharaoh, spinmaster/keyboardist /vocalist.  The New Hampshire natives have been creating their unique style of hybrid music (they call it “junk rock”) for the past ten years.
 
 
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Ryan Vezina's Four Arms (Two are Justin's)

Recycled Percussion took third place on season four of America’s Got Talent and have been touring ever since, landing their most recent show at Studio 54 in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.  It’s a small venue and gets filled quickly with big sound.  Neon-ringed columns reach up into a black, light-filled ceiling fitted with a large disco ball.  Pictures on the wall include Tim Curry as Dr. Frankenfurter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Elton John.

A central stage holds what looks like an organized junk yard.  There are two distinct percussion stations made from trash cans, hub caps, and buckets.  Magoon and his guitar appear on stage, setting a rock tone.  Video instructions from a large overhead screen are given to the crowd – when to bang and when to stop.  Other instructions follow from Spencer during the course of the show, as he encourages the audience to emulate his rhythm with their own noisemakers.

Spencer and Vezina, the two percussionists, are also cousins who open the show by engaging in a type of percussive warfare while blindfolded, as if they are dueling in tandem.  


The four prove that percussion doesn’t have to come from metal, wood, or plastic.  Vocals, finger snaps, chest and stomach slaps and thumps also create a rhythm.  There’s a beat box vocal that sets up a beat that the audience answers, no words needed – ever.  Spinmaster Griffin provides a comic relief supported by electronic sound that augments the beat into a fast-paced composition.

There is so much participation that your hands may actually ache, but you’ll hate to give the “instruments” back at show’s end.  It’s that much fun.  Not only do they engage the audience, the four are extremely engaging themselves.  All possess mile wide smiles full of good natured mischief.  They try to trick you into missing a beat, or banging one out by mistake.
 
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Justin Spencer (left ladder) Jimmy Magoon (blue drums) Todd Griffin (red drums) Ryan Vezina (right ladder)
 
Magoon’s guitar churns out familiar TV themes from Jeopardy and The Andy Griffith Show.  Recognition by the audience is key, because then a collective beat can be maintained by everyone.  This is apparent in a finale encompassing rock tunes.

An earlier phone quiz via video screen rendered a half dozen winners (plus entertainer Carrot Top and Las Vegas Weekly’s John Katsilometes) who donned masks and engaged in an onstage game of mimic the beat which then turned to catch the drumstick (Katsilometes won).

Spencer and Vezina climb two different tall metal ladders, playing the rungs and joints with drum sticks and swiftly changing places with each other without missing a beat.  They climb up high and slide down to the floor.  The audience clangs its approval.

They can pound and catch a multitude of drumsticks thrown at them from band mates on pedestals behind the audience – and all this without missing a beat or a catch.

A suspended beam full of hanging metal objects descends from the ceiling and every piece is played.  Buckets, pots, hubcaps, farm tools – if it makes a sound, someone will get it to clank, bang, thump, plink, or boom.
 
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Hanging Percussion
 
 
The tremendous energy it takes to wail on these items, both high and low, large and small makes for big biceps on the two percussionists.  It is probably not unusual for them to lose weight during a performance.  

Shaking hands with the two percussionists at the end of the show, I felt intense heat emanating from their palms.  Percussion causes friction, which causes heat; the recycled part means that they can do it over and over again.

I’d be tempted to say, “You can’t beat that,” but with all of the moving parts, the metal, the plastic, the drumsticks, the talent, and the energy, the guys would be disappointed if you didn’t.

For further information:

www.recycledpercussionband.com
 
 
Super Summer Theatre Presents The Foreigner at Spring Mountain Ranch
 
The final production of the 35th season of Super Summer Theatre is also the only non-musical.  Author Larry Shue’s The Foreigner is a comedy with seven characters, a host of secrets, shifty motives, misunderstandings, little white lies and bad behavior.  What’s not to like?

Director Scott Johnson, a UNLV graduate, is a founding member and Head Writer of Feed the Monkey: Sketch Comedy, and a cast member of Tony and Tina’s Wedding.  The Foreigner is his first attempt at directing a full length play, and judging from audience reaction, probably won’t be his last.

The September 9th opening, full of military and media members roared appreciatively through the production which, despite having only one non-changing set, managed to keep the action (and laughs) flowing with clever wordplay and numerous, animated plot developments.

Perfectly cast, the production is the story of painfully shy Englishman and Sci-Fi proofreader Charlie Baker (Miles Coleman).  Charlie is somewhat of a nebbish, whose hospitalized wife has cheated on him 23 times.  Accompanying his British Army Staff Sergeant friend and explosives expert Froggy LeSueur (Matthew Arrington) on a trip to rural Georgia, Charlie stays at the inn of widowed Betty Meeks (Joan Mullaney) while Froggy goes on a top secret military assignment.  
 
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Charlie (Miles Coleman) and Froggy (Matthew Arrington)

To save his timid friend from having to talk to anyone in his absence, Froggy concocts a charismatic tale about Charlie, presenting him as a foreign national from a classified country.  He speaks no English and cannot be addressed by anyone or else he’ll hang his head in the shame of non-comprehension.  
 
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Froggy and Betty Meeks (Joan Mullaney)

Hilarious happenings begin to occur as Charlie becomes privy to an unplanned pregnancy, a real estate swindle, a financially motivated marriage, a corrupt official, and KKK dealings.  After all, everyone thinks the foreigner can’t understand a word.

Four other characters’ lives entwine with Charlie’s during his stay at the lodge.  Reverend David Marshall Lee (Jeff Tribbitt) is a preacher with a lot of secrets covering up a dark side.  Catherine Simms (Aja Wilson) is Rev. Lee’s fiancée and, NOT coincidentally, an heiress. Ellard Simms (Ryan Remark) is Catherine’s dimwitted but good-hearted younger brother, and Owen Musser (Tony Sandrew) is a corrupt, racist county inspector who likes to harass Betty Meeks and intimidate just about everyone else.
 
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Charlie Meets Ellard (Ryan Remark) and Catherine (Aja Wilson)

 Charlie’s perceived “foreignness” makes for a host comedic misunderstandings.  Ellard tries to teach Charlie English, which results in the two putting small drinking glasses on their heads; Betty thinks this is a custom in Charlie’s country.  Phone calls to Froggy turn to gibberish when anyone else enters the room; Charlie must speak in his own, made-up, nonsensical language.  Charlie’s English words must mimic Ellard’s hayseed pronunciation; lamp becomes “lay-ump” and fork becomes “fo-werk”.
 
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Charlie Learns English From Ellard
 
Add to this Catherine’s incessant complaining, Reverend Lee’s deceptive scheming and Owen’s menacing threats, played against Charlie’s perceived innocence, and the laughs are nearly non-stop.
 
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Charlie "Talks"  to Catherine, Rev. Lee (Jeff Tribbitt) and Owen (Tony Sandrew)

Matthew Arrington’s cockney military man, Froggy, is a brash and commanding stage presence, a pleasure to watch.  Joan Mullaney’s Betty is quick with a country cackle and full of a zest for life.  Aja Wilson is convincing as Catherine, the spoiled Southern heiress that never seems satisfied despite her wealth.  Ryan Remark’s Ellard is a walking landmine of laughs.
 
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Charlie Tells a Story
 
Jeff Tribbitt plays the Reverend Lee with a disarming openness that belies the preacher’s motives, and Tony Sandrew is ferociously aggressive as the county inspector that won’t leave home without a snarl.

These actors form an expert ensemble for Miles Coleman’s Charlie to engage, interact and almost literally bounce off of as they attempt to incorporate him into their lives.  Coleman’s knack for physical comedy is apparent as Charlie must gesture, pantomime and even walk like a chicken, a young girl, and a nameless beast in an effort at (coerced) communication.  Coleman, a London native himself, is a standout in a cast bursting with talent.
 
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Charlie vs. The Klan

 
The Foreigner is a BNTA (British National Theatre of America) production.  Its mission is to “engage, entertain, and inspire through theatre with an inherently British accent.”

By that standard The Foreigner is a jolly good show, indeed.


About Super Summer Theatre:

The Foreigner will run from September 9-25 (Thursdays through Saturdays).

Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the gate, and can be purchased at the UNLV Performing Arts Box Office, Prestige Travel at Lake Mead and Rampart, or online at unlvtickets.com.

Guests may bring a blanket or chair for use in general-admission grass seating, suitable for enjoying a picnic or treats from the concession stand.

Gates open at 6 p.m. Performances run Thursday through Saturday beginning at 8 p.m. Spring Mountain Ranch is located 10 miles west of the Charleston/215 exit.

The 2011 season of Super Summer Theatre will feature productions of Annie, The Drowsy Chaperone, Fiddler on the Roof, and Five Guys Named Moe.

For further information:
(702) 594-PLAY (7529).
http://www.supersummertheatre.com