Pop Waits, the Neo-Futurists’ new production, directed by Halena Kays, is a punk rock operetta with some sweet and sad moments. Created by Malic White and Molly Brennan, Pop Waits tells their stories of love, depression and music with original songs and pretty darned good facsimiles of the music legends they love.
The transgender White is a huge Iggy Pop fan and although small in size, personifies Iggy’s stage and vocal mannerisms. At one point, Malic performs bare-chested, Iggy-style, and takes a stage dive into the crowd while performing his hit, “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Molly Brennan digs the sound and lyrics of Tom Waits’ music. She dons a jacket and homburg and does a good imitation of the growly Waits sound. Malic and Molly love each other and are partners in life and clowncraft.
The first part of the show is dedicated to music and Malic and Molly’s musical heroes. Gradually, we learn parts of their story. How they met, or didn’t meet. Malic’s depression and bad luck with a long series of therapists. The pain of Molly’s degenerative nerve disease. The punch and power of the music is balanced—or offset—by the quiet honesty of their stories.
The 90-minute production, partly improv, is a punk rock treat with the excellent band made up of musical director Spencer Meeks, Eliza Carlson and Nick Davio, all multi-instrumentalists. Many instruments of percussion, keyboards and strings are used throughout the show. Most of the music is original, including the opening number, which the crew is creating on a blackboard as the audience arrives. “What rhymes with cow?” shouts one of the musicians. My “Meow!” made it to the blackboard. (“Punk rock unibrow. You’re the cat’s meow.”)
Pop Waits is participatory in other ways too. At several points, the audience is invited to the floor for a music performance or for Malic’s crowd surfing.
WTF is the Iggy Pop/Tom Waits thing? Besides Malic and Molly’s admiration, there is a pop culture connection. The 2003 Jim Jarmusch film, the cult classic Coffee and Cigarettes, features an awkward conversation between the two in a dingy bar. They’re one of 11 pairs of performers who share coffee (or tea), cigarettes and conversation in various venues and ways during the film. The 10-minute segment is screened at Neo-Futurists before the performance. (Actually the whole film is on YouTube.)
Pop Waits continues at the Neo-Futurists, 5153 N. Ashland, through March 12. Performances are at 7:30pm Thursday-Saturday. Tickets are $20 (or pay what you can on Thursdays). Buy them here or call 773-878-4557.