MUSIC BOX: Theater and music collide

The idea of a femme fatale is nothing new—those seductive ladies that lure poor souls into the entrapments of desire, only to be lead into misery, and usually death—but it typically makes for a damn good story. One of the most legendary types of femme fatales are the Sirens: in Greek mythology, the Sirens would lure sailors at sea with a song so beautiful it could not be resisted. Those sailors would then be lead toward the song in search of their seductresses, only to usually crash their ship and die. I mean, there are worse ways to go out, but it still sucks for the sailor.

The self-proclaimed “hardest working theater in the known world,” iDiOM Theater will be tackling the subject of the Sirens in its latest Music Box performance (the fifth to date), “Heartbroken and Hopeful Again.”

While every music box performance is different, the idea is to combine theater and live music in an intimate setting, and to use both aspects of performance to tell a story. This rendition of Music Box will feature the musical talents of the complete Falling Up Stairs lineup (Jonathan Sherman, Ryan Wapnowski, Brendan LaBotz and Ramsay Grove,) Peter Hilleary (Navigator/ Communicator, ex-Todos Somos Lee) and four former members of the City of Lost Children (sisters Amanda and Cassidy Bloom, Emily Rostykus and Annaliese Mortimer). Former Music Box performances have featured the likes of I Love You Avalanche and Falling Up Stairs, among others.

Obviously, with so many members—extremely talented ones at that—the project is ambitious in its scope. From what I witnessed while they set up for practice, there are probably close to a dozen instruments being used (guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, xylophone, multiple singers, more effects pedals than I could shake a stick at, a saxophone, a bell, and probably other things that I didn’t have a chance to see.) The Falling Up Stairs dudes and Peter Hilleary are performing all of the instrumentation for the play, while the sisters Bloom, Rostykus and Mortimer sing vocals and other “mouth noises,” as they referred to it.

“That’s just what we call it because we don’t really consider ourselves singers,” Mortimer said. “There are a lot of ‘oohs and aahs’ as well as heavy breathing and stuff like that. So we’re not always singing during the performance.”

iDiOM mastermind and the writer of “Heartbroken and Hopeful Again,” Sol Olmstead described the project as more of an opera than a traditional play. The collaboration began with the idea being pitched by Olmstead, as Falling Up Stairs had participated in a Music Box performance in the past. For four months, the group of musicians have been practicing on a weekly basis in order to get the 10 songs they have compiled down. The songs all started out with just an outline that Olmstead provided the group. The outline mostly just focused on themes and the narrative, and from there the band was tasked with coming up with music that they felt worked best with the outline. Olmstead provided some of the lyrics that will be used during the performance. The performance will also feature dance choreography by Kelly Bjork, as well as costumes and props. Since the story takes place by the sea, there will also be water involved.

“In a lot of ways, the music we came up with is like a concept album. They are all story songs. When we got the outline, we were told to write a song about a storm, about seduction and a song that introduces the sailor, stuff like that,” Amanda said.

“Pretty much all the songs just started with a lick and then we just went from there,” Cassidy added. “It has really been a dream collaboration.”

Wapnowski, as well as other members of the group, have all spoken highly of the collaboration, which, from the all snippets I’ve heard, is possibly the most ambitious music going on in Bellingham right now. When keeping in mind all of the proven talent and technical abilities of both Peter Hilleary and the Falling Up Stairs gang, the instrumental-end music is highly-technical, mathy and jazzy, but still grounded in the rock influences that they all seem to have.

“There really is so much respect and admiration between everyone in this group,” Wapnowski said. “I mean, we at Falling Up Stairs have felt like we have added family members to our group.”

Mortimer added that they have been talking about starting a commune together, or a cult.

You can witness the cult, and probably become a fervent follower, when “Music Box #5: Heartbroken and Hopeful Again” plays at 9 p.m. on September 12,13,14 and 19, 20, 21 at the iDiOM Theater, located at 1418 Cornwall Ave. The ticket price on opening night is $5, and will raise to $10 admission for every performance after the opening night.