It’s astounding to contemplate: Is Shanghai getting its first ever rock ’n’ roll musical? Last week I gave a quick nod to “Black Is the Color of My Voice,” a Shanghai-based musical featuring the bluesy music of Nina Simone and related acts.
By all accounts it was an intimate affair, with star Apphia Campbell holding the spotlight beautifully throughout. The audience was roped in by her sensitive performance.
The production at hand, however, will be a different affair.
The East-West Theatre will present “Rock On Halloween” at The Pearl Thursday through Sunday this weekend and next.
The venue was formerly Chinatown. It has the time warp feel of a vaudeville theater, with décor straight out of early last century. It’s small yet majestic, and the right show could really fill it with an amazing experience.
“Rock On Halloween” is based on the 1970s musical play and movie that became famous, and infamous, for being part of a handful of productions to self-consciously introduce “camp” into the mainstream.
“Camp” is a style marked by ironic and intentional low production values, exaggerated emotions and affectations, and usually a winking sexuality. It has its roots in cheesy American TV shows and movies in the 1950s and 60s. The booming economy of the time meant that although those sorts of productions were prohibitively expensive for many, the rapid growth in demand meant that some funny figures were able to sneak into the process.
Movies like “Santa Clause Conquers the Martians” in 1964 seemed to have somewhat genuine intentions, and that is somewhat scary but mostly beautiful. But by the late 1960s and early 70s, artists like Truman Capote, Andy Warhol and the late Lou Reed self-consciously transformed these techni-color wonders into something peculiar and queer.
“Rock On Halloween” will certainly bring the camp to Shanghai.
The show mixes classic Broadway or West End-style musicals with a send-up to horror movies and rock ’n’ roll of the 1940s to 70s. Referring directly to these influences both in the lyrics and the form of the story, it takes them to absurd levels.
Certainly surprisingly to those involved in the original production, the musical has outlived just about every reference in its material. Whether you know who Dr X is, or Buddy Holly, it doesn’t really matter.
With “Rock On Halloween” you’ll have the chance to sit back and relax while it all blows by.
Date: October 31-November 3, 7-10, 8pm (doors open at 7pm)