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Eastern Parade

Stephen Brown satirizes self-help trendiness in Yoga the Musical.

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If Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, singer/songwriter Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields and Hedwig and the Angry Itch star John Cameron Mitchell were to collaborate on a musical about yoga, the funny, bizarre and oddly captivating result would probably resemble SB Dance impresario Stephen Brown’s latest production, Yoga the Musical.

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Brown’s first foray into musical theater'initially prompted by the desire to work with Ricklen Nobis and Jimmy Fassler, who jointly composed and orchestrated the original score'is a jocular examination of cultural clashes and mutations that occur when the ancient practice of yoga washes up on the shores of the United States and mixes with America’s competitive, materialistic culture. The witty, tongue-in-cheek “yoga raps”'with lyrics by Brown and Shari Zollinger'make light of the commodification of yoga and Eastern culture: “Flash you a smile and my hippest tattoo/ Of a meaningful word written in Hindu.” Jibes at various New Age panaceas also are expertly woven into the script.

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Brown’s work may draw attention to Western cultural absurdities but he stresses that he’s not advocating sweeping changes. His primary objective is to thoughtfully entertain the masses. “American culture is so absorbent. I think it’s great how so many people have integrated yoga into their lives. But, you have to admit … there are some pretty humorous things going on in the yoga world,” Brown says.

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Yoga the Musical'set in a fictional hotbed of progressive cultural trends called YogAngeles'probes some of those happenings. The cast features a motley bunch of enlightenment-seekers, including dueling yoga gurus Danny and Jackti; heartbroken narrator Frankie (overlord of a seedy yoga “black market” replete with covert agents, entrepreneurs and goons) whose wife left him to devote herself to yoga; and a lawyer-turned-slacker “coffee jock” (potentially the runaway star of the show) who sings a hilarious song about furiously “keying the company logo” in the name of nonattachment.

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Despite the difference in format, Yoga the Musical features some hallmarks of a Stephen Brown production: crude jokes (booby cams and yogorgasms), sharp choreography (“yoga jazz,” best described as a cross between a Bollywood production number and Alvin Ailey) and ruminations on the adaptability of rats (a reoccurring by-product of Brown’s science degree). “I hate to disappoint the audience, but this time, there’s no nudity,” Brown says with a grin.

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Nobis and Brown say that constructing an off-the-wall original musical with orchestration, lyrics, dance moves and asanas galore was a daunting, intensive experience requiring them to work grueling 16-hour days. However, the multitalented cast'hand picked by Brown'embraced the challenge. Nobis explains that exhilaration is beginning to kick in: “It’s so gratifying when the orchestration, choreography and everything reaches the final stages. I’m so glad that we live in the digital age, because all of the new technology that has allowed us to do all of this high-quality work on the cheap is really what has made this production possible.nn

Brown says, “There’s always a point when you’re working on a giant project like this where you ask yourself, ‘Am I a total fraud? Can I really pull this off?’ … For this production, we needed people who could sing, dance, act and stand on their heads. But when you have a marathon rehearsal on Memorial Day, and everyone is eager to get into character and nobody bitches, you know you’re on the right track.nn

In spite the massive workload, Brown says that he would like to do more musical theater in the future and plans to do a second run'and possibly a sequel'of Yoga the Musical in 2008. Brown says he would like to gain his inspiration from future projects for local subjects. “Perhaps City Weekly the Musical is next,” he says. “But only if I can get [President] John Saltas on stage in a white spandex unitard.nn

YOGA THE MUSICAL
nRose Wagner Performing Arts Center
n138 W. 300 South
nJune 8–17
n355-ARTS

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