A Commercial Formula

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Typically when we talk about something being formulaic -- it's not a good thing. That is, of course, unless it's a great formula that's really well executed and...can be repeated.

Take the For the Record series at Rockwell. You can almost hear the question that led to the show: 'How can we create a cabaret series in a city that's a film town?.'

The recipe is pretty straightforward. Take the work of a revered director who turns out classic films with great soundtracks. (For this incarnation: Martin Scorcese). Pick out a couple dozen of the best tunes from the soundtracks: Gimme Shelter, House of the Rising Sun, Volare, Layla. Then choose the iconic scenes. With Scorcese, I bet you could come up with the snippets yourself. Think Goodfellas, Casino, a little Raging Bull. Cut it together so you've got a sort of ‘best of' classic songs interspersed with short recognizable scenes -- the kind of stuff your movie obsessed friends quote to each other. Then cast eight young, talented singers -- most with Broadway tour or regional credits: folks with the pipes and presence to pull the songs off.

The special sauce, if you'll forgive the pun, is they perform it in a restaurant. Don't worry the performers aren't your waiters, at least not here. There are about 160 seats surrounding a skinny thrust stage -- really more of a platform dividing the room -- and then a couple of playing areas scattered in among the tables. There are simple costumes, a couple of set pieces but that's it. So you've got a bunch of folks eating -- and more importantly drinking -- watching some of their favorite songs brought to life right in front of them.

The interpretation of both the songs and the scenes is pretty straightforward. This isn't parody or even sampling -- it's really about recreating something folks already know -- more or less the way they know it. It's more about nostalgia than invention.

But as a formula, it's genius.

In addition to Scorcese, they've done Tarantino, John Hughes, Paul Thomas Anderson -- just saying them you can imagine the set list, right?

What's remarkable is I can't remember the last time I was in an LA audience with this much energy -- sure the booze helps -- but they've tapped into popular culture in a really direct way. What makes it more than a gimmick is the performers really deliver. Not only do they have the chops to handle the music but they're putting their hearts into it.

There's something quintessentially LA about For the Record: Scorcese and yet very un-LA theater. It feels like this could pack houses for a while -- which for all of LA's theater -- is no easy feat.

Grab some friends or even better the relatives from out of town and go for some simple entertainment. You won't see anything you haven't seen before - but in weird sense - that's the idea.

For the Record: Scorcese plays through December 1 at Rockwell in Los Feliz. The For the Record series plays Thursday through Sunday nights.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Banner image: Cast of For the Record: Scorcese. Photo by Joanna Strapp