August 07, 2016

Exposure the Musical – Life Through a Lens Is One for the Instagram Generation

"Shut up and shoot me," Pandora (Niamh Perry) says to Jimmy (David Albury), photo courtesy of Pamela Raith
             At the beginning of July, I wrote about visiting the cast of Exposure The Musical – Life Through A Lens during their rehearsals. It made me all the more eager to see the show come to fruition, especially after learning about its back-story and hearing from the creative team. For a recap of what happened, read my post here, where you’ll also find a general synopsis of the musical.

             As I entered the St. James Theatre, where there is not a bad seat in its steep setup, I experienced the uncanny feeling that I was being watched. An unwavering eye stared out at the audience, blinking only sporadically. We were exposed as the subjects of an unknown photographer, with camera shutters clicking all around us. Then suddenly, a surge of images commanded the screens on stage to an echoing chorus of “live life, love life” that increased in urgency with each newly revealed photograph. They have all been sourced from the vast archive that is Getty Images. The stock photo agency was a supporter of the production from the very beginning and its library of photographs makes up the majority of Exposure’s “set.”

Jimmy with his two loves: Tara (Natalie Anderson) and his camera, photo courtesy of Pamela Raith
             The songs are a medley of gospel, soul, and rock, all delivered by an ultra talented cast. When David Albury (protagonist Jimmy Tucker) sings with Kurt Kansley (Jimmy’s deceased father) in “Father’s Lament,” the result is goose bump-inducing. Niamh Perry’s (Jimmy’s childhood friend Pandora, who becomes a famous singer) rendition of “My Last Goodbye” is heartbreakingly beautiful and places her incredible vocal range front and center. Natalie Anderson is instantly likeable as the warm and engaging Tara, who becomes Jimmy’s love interest. Michael Greco is stellar in his role as Miles Mason, a PR mogul who just happens to moonlight as the devil. Manny Tsakanika (dance captain), along with the rest of the ensemble, is a delight to watch dancing to Lindon Barr’s fluid and effortless choreography.

             Exposure is a musical for the Instagram generation, a generation that is so accustomed to a constant influx of images and visual stimuli. The material is energetic and relatable, but it also serves as a warning to our faltering attention spans. It’s a wonder that the two girls in front of me managed to stay off their phones during the duration of the show. As soon as the intermission rolled around, they were off chasing elusive Pokémon once again and scrolling through pictures of cats (I kid you not). What there needs to be is a conversation, a meeting of minds and ideas, and that is what Exposure is giving us. It’s opening up a discussion about good and evil, right and wrong, true and false. A photograph used to be pure; the camera never lies. Except, now the camera, or Photoshop and Instagram for that matter, can tell monstrous, ferocious lies and sometimes we don’t even know it.   

Snap it! (ensemble from left: Kurt Kansley, Andy Barke, Jahrel Thomas, Manny Tsakanika, and Zeph Gould), photo courtesy of Pamela Raith
             Photographer Jimmy wrestles with these moral dilemmas. His subject matter is typically worn-out people from war-torn countries. While these kinds of images are horrific, it raises the question of whether we have become desensitized to suffering. Will it take more and more extreme scenes to shock us? Jimmy’s own father died after taking a photo that he knew he wasn’t supposed to take of a rainmaker hiding his face from the soul-stealing camera. Clearly it stirred up some bad juju and Jimmy goes on to snatch a secret photo of Tara when she’s asked him not to. Miles takes his chance to burst onto the scene. He showers Jimmy with presents: the same type of camera his father used and an aptly named Diavel Ducati.

             Thus, we have arrived at the main premise of the musical and it’s a very good one at that: the seven deadly sins. Above the London skyline, way up in the Eye, Jimmy sells his soul to the devil. Jimmy initially writes off the notion of the seven deadly sins as a somewhat draconian concept. With all of the guile that one would expect from a horned demon, Miles merely laughs through his maniacal smile: “Sinning never goes out of fashion.” He’s right of course. Ensnared by Miles’ offer to photograph the seven deadly sins alive and kicking in London in 24 hours, Jimmy doesn’t quite realize how dangerous they truly can be until his mission hits a little too close to home. I would have liked there to be more emphasis on Jimmy trawling the city to find and capture the different sins. The rest of the musical builds up to this moment and the song “7even Deadly Sins” seems hurried and doesn’t do the crux of the plot justice. However, Exposure’s script was originally about three times the length of the current one, so understandably something had to give.

The green-eyed monster, envy (Kurt Kansley as Jimmy's father), comes out to play in the devil's (Michael Greco as Miles Mason) lair, photo courtesy of Pamela Raith
             I can only imagine how writer Mike Dyer must be feeling after 12 years working on the project, one that he developed after a fatal motorbike accident and the death of his father – themes that we have seen emerge within the musical. Since its previews, he has been reworking elements of the production until he gets it just so. It is the same high standard that all of the cast uphold. During the stirring “Rainmaker” finale, their faces illuminate, each and every one of them glistening with eagerness and pride (in this case, it’s definitely not a sin). It’s the expression that someone has when they truly believe in what they’re doing and they’re scanning the room to see if we believe too. Well, I certainly left the evening as a believer and with several of the songs stuck in my head.

             Exposure The Musical – Life Through A Lens is playing at the St. James Theatre until August 27th. Snap up tickets here.

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