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MUSIC REVIEW

'Absurd' and more at Ford

September 22, 2003|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

By day a mild-mannered musician and film composer, when Ross Wright gets anywhere near a podium, voila!, he becomes Elvis Schoenberg, fearlessly jumping boundaries of genre and taste in a single leap.

Not merely content to perform shotgun marriages between the likes of Wagner and Nancy Sinatra, Mussorgsky and Santana, etc., Wright (er, Elvis) took on a more ambitious task Friday night at the Ford Amphitheatre -- a "book musical" of a sort called "Symphony of the Absurd!" It was, as Ed Sullivan would have said, "a really big shew" in which Wright incorporated many of his set pieces and some newer numbers into a hellzapoppin' revue, with an eclectic assortment of dancers, sexy girls, pulp novel narrations, lighting effects, dry ice. In other words, it was a real hoot.

The "storyline" -- cooked up by "Dangerous" Dan O'Callaghan, the portly tenor who can also do cartwheels (shades of John Belushi) -- was a slender thing, indeed: Elvis and his friends save the Earth from an invasion of space aliens. It was just a ruse to link several of Wright's musical contraptions into a reasonably flowing whole, and perhaps to get in a few political licks -- with O'Callaghan deposing the current Chief Executive and running for office himself to the tune of the Bee Gees' "Jive Talkin'."

If anything, Wright's collages of this and that bring Frank Zappa to mind -- the quick cuts between styles, the intricately difficult lines, the occasional jazz breaks. But Wright doesn't share Zappa's gleeful misanthropy; his lampooning seems more affectionate and respectful of his audience's love of pop culture. At one point, where "Blue Suede Shoes" is sung against a wacky 12-tone setting, the idiom literally could be called Elvis Schoenberg.

Much of this mayhem featured the vocals of the pink-platinum-haired chanteuse The Fabulous Miss Thing (Angela Carole Brown), whose delivery sometimes resembled that of Tina Turner and who also plays a mean theremin. The 22-piece Orchestre Surreal deftly handled any number of styles -- with some good bebop breaks by the wind soloists -- although the strings sounded a bit flummoxed by some of Wright's more contorted lines.

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