“Ghosts, puppets, revelry, whaleships, leviathans, rum.” That’s the description of the musical-in-development SeaWife in one of its workshop incarnations in New York City earlier this year. Nowadays, as the team putting the show together gets ready for its Powerhouse Theater stint at Vassar College this weekend, they’re subtitling it A Nautical Ghost Story with Music.
Like actors, sailors have a reputation for being superstitious folk. On a really long sea voyage, endless hours spent staring at the horizon when all the conceivable work above or below decks has been completed can do funny things to your head. Women, whistling and bananas are just a few of the things believed by some to bring bad luck aboard ship. Think of ghosts like the Flying Dutchman and ghost ships like the Mary Celeste, the albatross’ curse in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the spectral Fata Morgana and St. Elmo’s Fire. And if ever there was a haunted guy in literature, it was Captain Ahab, obsessed with his ghostly white whale.
There’s something about that mixture of salt spray, ectoplasm and rum rations that makes for an evocative cocktail, and a motley group of young Off-Broadway theater talents has spun from it the show titled SeaWife. “Supernatural characters, romance, tragedy and stirring original music by the Lobbyists combine in this one-of-a-kind event – part play, part concert and part immersive experience,” reads the official Powerhouse synopsis. “We follow Percy, a young sailor bred in the golden age of the American whaling boom, as he journeys through port cities and wrestles with ghosts, sea monsters and the loss of his one true love.”
The project is a collaboration by multi-prizewinning playwright Seth Moore, who has a penchant for the Gothic and a track record of working with puppetry; director Liz Carlson, artistic director of the Off-Broadway troupe Naked Angels; and musical director Tommy Crawford and his indie-folk band the Lobbyists. The group’s name signifies the fact that it was founded in the lobby of TriBeCa’s Flea Theater, where Crawford was a longtime member of the resident troupe known as “Bats,” and every one of the band members – Eloïse Eonnet, Alex Grubbs, Will Turner, Tony Vo and Douglas Waterbury-Tieman – is an actor-slash-musician.
More importantly, the Lobbyists have a great sound: acoustic enough to support the folkloric nature of the material, but with an edge that bespeaks downtown and a little bit of an Eastern European accent. Check out their music video “Scary Night,” from their Songs from SeaWife album, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddq7uFqyACc and you’ll hear what I mean. Or you can download the whole album (for a fee) on the Lobbyists’ Bandcamp page.
Vassar and New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theater will present SeaWife as the first in the Vogelstein Musical Workshop series, to be performed in the Susan Stein Shiva Theater on the Vassar College campus this Friday and Saturday, June 27 and 28 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, June 29 at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets cost $30 and can be obtained by calling (845) 437-5599 or visiting email@example.com.
Powerhouse Theater presents the Lobbyists in SeaWife, Friday/Saturday, June 27/28, 8 p.m., Sunday, June 29, 2 & 7 p.m., $30, Susan Stein Shiva Theater, Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film, Vassar College, 124 Raymond Avenue, Poughkeepsie; (845) 437-5599, firstname.lastname@example.org.