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Theatre Review by James Wilson - September 29, 2022

Josh Pollock, Dan Harris, Lila Blue, Kofy Brown (on bongos),
Kate Kilbane, and Dan Moses

Photo by Joan Marcus
Weightless, the indie-rock musical by The Kilbanes and produced by the Women's Project, is described as a "theatrical concept album." The company of six musicians and singers present a tuneful song cycle connected by poetic narration that focuses on two sisters confronted with overwhelming cruelty and extreme physical violence. Based on a story from Ovid's "Metamorphoses," the dark tale is thankfully lightened by humor, divine intervention, and, of course, transformation.

As children, sisters Procne (Kate Kilbane, who is also one of the writers and plays the bass in the show) and Philomela (Lila Blue) live a rather idyllic existence. They spend their nights setting up sacred altars and rehearsing stories about their favorite gods. Diana, the goddess of the hunt, figures prominently in their ritualistic reveries. Their blissfulness does not last long, however. When their father announces that Procne is to be married "to some local halfwit," the young women run away to set up home near the ocean.

While hunting, Procne meets the dangerous but alluring Tereus (Josh Pollock, who is also on guitar). She is put off by him at first, but when Procne discovers he is able to make a bow and arrow and she can only construct a spear, she is smitten. Leaving her sister to fend for herself, Procne goes off to live with Tereus. Soon after, Procne becomes pregnant, and when she is about to give birth, she telepathically summons her sister to join her. Tereus, as brutal a villain as one might find in Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, mutilates Philomela and keeps both women apart and imprisoned. The sympathetic goddess of the rainbow, Iris (Kofy Brown, providing percussion and playing the bass as well), and who serves as the show's narrator, proffers hope that the two young women will once again be reunited.

Directed by Tamilla Woodard and choreographed by nicHi douglas, Weightless is a cross between a rock concert and a musical, and it succeeds more in the former than it does in the latter. Staged on a cluster of platforms (Peiyi Wong designed the set) and featuring concert-style LED and spot-lighting (Stacey Derosier), the performance captures the excitement and energy of an arena show within the confines of the intimate theatre space. (Joanna Lynne Staub's sound design is appropriate for the production, but its volume often makes lyrics hard to discern–at least to these musical-theatre accustomed ears.)

This rock musical adaptation of a myth evokes natural comparisons with Anaïs Mitchell's Hadestown, currently running on Broadway. That show leans into its theatricality and as a result offers a much more emotionally rich and involving experience. The concert-style presentation of Weightless, on the other hand, puts the audience at a psychological remove. It is hard to connect with characters and be affected by their relationships when musical instruments and mic stands provide physical barriers between them and us.

What the evening lacks in unabashed sentimentality, though, the performers make up for in pure showmanship. As Procne, Kilbane has the vocal verve of Ann Wilson from the rock band Heart, and she is beautifully paired with Blue, as Philomela, calling to mind a young Linda Ronstadt in her impressive ability to shift from crystalline soprano to raw-rocker vocals. Brown's Iris (stylishly attired in Dina El-Aziz's sleek and androgynous jeans, vest, and sleeveless-coat ensemble) is a sultry and wry presence with a supple and powerful voice to match. Pollock is suitably insidious as Tereus, and he is a versatile guitarist and singer. The cast receives excellent support from percussionist Dan Harris as well as keyboardist and back-up vocalist Dan Moses (who is the show's co-author and musical director).

The songs include an artful mix of ethereal ballads, folk-infused compositions, and hard-rock numbers. In fact, I've enjoyed revisiting the score, which has been preserved on a studio recording that is available through Amazon and Spotify. Theatrically, Weightless remains frustratingly earthbound, but musically, the show soars.

Through October 16, 2022
WP Theater
2162 Broadway at 76th St., New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: