Village Theatre festival audiences to uncover ‘Cloaked’

August 9, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

The Village Theatre Festival of New Musicals holds a reading of ‘Cloaked’ in August 2010. By Sam Freeman/Village Theatre

Original musical is a psychological thriller about online interaction

The rough-and-tumble environs of the Internet prompt too many comparisons to count.

In the electronic wilderness, the setting is similar to the Wild West, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, or a forest, dim and foreboding.

The original musical “Cloaked” re-imagines “Little Red Riding Hood” in such a boundless electronic wilderness. The result is a psychological thriller, a genre not often explored in a theater scene dominated by feel-good musicals.

“We wanted to write something that we felt we would like to see on a Broadway stage, but that wasn’t a story that you already knew the ending to — and that also made you think, that made you really ponder the world and the way that you see things and question our preconceived notions of things,” composer and co-lyricist Danny Larsen said. “We also wanted to put characters on stage who were not the usual leading roles that you would normally see.”

The bold piece is part of the Festival of New Musicals at Village Theatre. Organizers plan to open “Cloaked” to the public at First Stage Theatre — a departure from the festival format in the past.

Issaquah audiences last experienced “Cloaked” as a reading at the 2010 festival. The strong reaction the show received prompted organizers to invite the creators to stage the show for a developmental production.

Musical melds online, physical realms

The staging marks a return to Issaquah for Elliott and Larsen. The scribes presented the original musical “The Yellow Wood” — a coming-of-age tale about a teenager confronting attention deficit disorder and other challenges — in the 2008 festival.

“Cloaked” is far different from the earlier musical, darker and more nuanced. The piece also pulls from ever-more-common cybercrimes, at least to a degree.

“We definitely weren’t trying to create the Oprah Winfrey episode ‘Internet Predators: The Musical’ — that wasn’t our goal,” Larsen said.

Instead, “Cloaked” focuses on the connections forged online. In the online domain, liberated from insecurities in the physical realm, communications force a quick form of intimacy.

“We were interested in the idea of how, when people are desperate for human connection, that they’ll do almost anything to fill that need,” book writer and co-lyricist Michelle Elliott said. “We kept talking about it as an emptiness.”

If you go

‘Cloaked’

  • Village Theatre — First Stage Theatre
  • 120 Front St. N.
  • Aug. 12-21
  • Show times vary
  • $25 to $30
  • 392-2202 or www.villagetheatre.org

“Cloaked” dramatizes the forest in “Little Red Riding Hood” as the online environment — a clever device for the stage.

“Instead of seeing people sitting at computers and saying, ‘I am doing this right now,’ ‘I am doing that right now,’ you actually see people just existing,” Elliott said. “It’s not what you might think of a chatroom, but it’s what they’re imagining.”

CAP21, a theater program for up-and-coming artists in New York City, staged “Cloaked” in June 2010. Then, Elliott and Larsen adjusted the musical.

“We tightened some bolts, and then we were able to see it right away, and it confirmed that we were on the right track,” Elliott said.

Then, a little more than a month later, the duo packed up the show for the Issaquah festival. The barebones reading received a strong response from the festival audience.

(The director at First Stage Theatre, Kathryn Van Meter, helmed the festival reading, too.)

In the year since the last festival, Village Theatre opened a rebuilt First Stage Theatre. Executive Producer Robb Hunt envisioned the space as a venue for workshops and short runs for original musicals.

Fairytale offers inspiration

Elliott and Larsen met in the graduate musical theater-writing program at New York University. “The Yellow Wood” emerged in the course of the program.

The initial inspiration for “Cloaked” is traceable to a holiday window display at Bloomingdale’s in December 2005. The tableau modified fairytales to meld grown-up characters — including the titular character in “Little Red Riding Hood” — and Gothic imagery.

Elliott and Larsen referred to the nascent musical as “The Red Piece” as a nod to “Little Red Riding Hood” in the early stages.

“The plot came to us very, very quickly. I was on the train one day and, in between stops, I kind of crafted a whole plot in my mind. It kind of moved into my brain,” Elliott said. “It was based on many conversations that we’d had about the kind of story we wanted to tell, the kind of characters we wanted to have involved. Once the plot came, it’s always been that plot. Then, we found the right structure to tell that.”

Throughout the process, Elliott and Larsen plumbed the Internet to add details and texture to the characters in the piece. The scribes also created a “Second Life” avatar as part of the process. (“Second Life” is a simulated community comprising more than 20 million users in a 3-D environment.)

“The story from the get-go was very clear to us,” Larsen said. “We knew exactly what the beginning, the middle and the end were going to be. Once we actually sat down to write it, it just came out.”

The creators said “Cloaked” is a departure from the more traditional musicals common on Broadway nowadays.

“It requires an audience to have a sense of adventure and to be willing to see something that they’ve never seen before, and to have a theatrical experience that they don’t know where it’s going to go at the beginning,” Elliott said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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