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undercurrents festival: The PepTides take Love + Hate to new heights

By Brian Carroll on February 14, 2015

When remounting a Fringe show, most people just re-block the previous production to fit into a new space. Then they tweak a few weak lines in the script and wait for the tickets to sell.

The PepTides ain’t most people.

At last year’s Ottawa Fringe, cramming nine people onto the diminutive Mercury Lounge stage meant making some definite site-specific choices.

When undercurrents offered them the opportunity to use the much bigger Arts Court Theatre, the PepTides asked themselves: “What can we do differently?”

The answer was lots: costumes, hair styles, set design, choreography, blocking.

If you saw last year’s show, I encourage you to see this expansive remount. The PepTides have taken the show to new heights. If you haven’t seen the show, get your tickets early. Opening night was sold out.

There’s still plenty retained from the original Fringe production. It’s still a lavish, energetic spectacle with infectious dancing and social commentary. It is again irresistible. Judging by the reaction of the audience, of my guest and of your humble servant, The PepTides again more than meet their promises.

The PepTides combine pop music styling with highly intelligent lyrics. They call it pop-noir.

As a musical, Love + Hate is more a series of pre-apocalyptic vignettes than a story with an arc. Take three examples. A doctor is treating a child who, like Cassandra, is fixating on apocalyptic events. A man applies for a job with a company that specializes in legal recreational pharmaceuticals. A brilliant (and buxom) anthropologist discovers evidence of undiscovered social behaviours in orang-utans, but impending ecological extinction threatens the scientific reproducibility of her controversial results.

Who knew that vignettes about denying impending doom could be so entertaining?

At undercurrents and the Fringe, artists can experiment with form and content. In one song, The PepTides succeed at an equivalent of reading the phone book onstage. They set a drug catalogue to lyrics and music, with matching choreography. The result is brilliant! The harmonies were awe-inspiring.

The transitions between vignettes are so seamless that there is no time for the audience to applaud until the end.

Not all performers are playing all the time. But even when singers or instrumentalists are on the sidelines, director Emma Ferrante has still assigned them roles to act out: sipping drinks, actively following the action, encouraging other performers, posing in ways that support a performer’s monologue.

The vocalists are marvellously dynamic. This ain’t no park and bark! The singers are often in motion in tightly coordinated choreography that complements the plot in each vignette.

There are hints of early ‘60s New York in the costumes, without a slavish adherence to any one period. This turns up in some of the choreography. There’s plenty of room now for free wheeling Jive, and The Twist. The musicians look like a New York jazz quartet (who had to borrow a couple of young musicians from The Doors). Did I hear hints of Miles Davis in the music?

The vocal harmonies are lush, ranging from 2-part to 5-part. There are strong solo voices, but when they blend, the harmonies are heavenly. They often sent shivers up my spine. The diction is knife sharp.

The band is SO tight! Keyboard player, Scott Irving starts them up. Drummer Alex Wickham lays down solid rhythms that has the audience toes tapping. Dale Waterman sings throughout but also plays electric piano in a great bar scene. The sound balance is superb.

Undercurrents patrons should be grateful. This lavish remount is still an entertainment bargain.

Love + Hate by The Peptides is presented by undercurrents theatre festival, taking place at Arts Court Studio (2 Daly Ave) until February 21, 2015. This performance is $15 or buy an evening pass for $25. Three performances remain:  Saturday, February 14th at 3:00pm, Sunday, February 15th at 3:00pm and Saturday, February 21st at 7:00pm. Click here for a detailed schedule.