The band from “Parallel Worlds” (courtesy of “Parallel Worlds”)
It takes varying skill sets to stage a play, direct a film and perform a concert, and aptitude in one area hardly guarantees talent in another. This is the remarkable thing about “Parallel Worlds: A New Rock Music Experience,” a musical production that runs at CAP Studio in Sherman Oaks through June 26. The production bills itself quite accurately as a rock music experience, since it mixes film, theater and rock music to form a show in which all of the pieces may seem independently familiar, but their combination feels fresh, clever and ultimately innovative. Separate each aspect of the show from the rest, and the individual pieces may not seem particularly novel, but the creators of “Parallel Worlds” act like master chefs, taking what seem like standard ingredients and combining them to create something fresh.
“Parallel Worlds” is the creation of Brandon Beckner, who wrote the production as well as the original songs that dominate the show alongside the songwriters/lyricists Steve Sobel and Paola Jimenez. The production mixes a live concert with a film that tells the story of young lovers J.B. (Shawn Reaves) and Ella (Marci Miller) whose relationship is torn apart when he must leave Los Angeles for his big break as an artist in New York. A live band performs songs that serve as commentary on the action, and essentially act as a Greek chorus for the couple, thus becoming characters themselves. Gradually the focus shifts from the action on screen to the action on stage, as the band members become characters in themselves.
Much of the production seems inspired by the culture of the 1990s, from the Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites look of Reaves to the songs that would fit easily right beside Lisa Loeb and Juliana Hatfield on that movie’s iconic soundtrack. The female lead singer of the band, Cassidy Catanzaro, recalls Melissa Etheridge during her “Come to My Window” heyday, while the male lead, Ryan Hudson, has the long hair and goatee of a young Dave Grohl. Most of the band members may have barely been in diapers during the era that “Parallel Worlds” invokes, but they seem eerily transported from the Seattle grunge scene of a quarter century ago.
While none of the songs are as memorable as “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” every one is solid and well-crafted, performed with gusto by each of the musicians on stage. Where they far exceed expectations is when the songs end and their stage performances begin. None of the band members are trained as actors, but it is impossible to tell. Catanzaro and Hudson remain as compelling when the music stops as when they are singing, and drummer Mike Odabashian steals the show with bits of comedy. Demonstrating a flair for physical comedy while hidden behind a drum set hardly seems possible, but that is precisely what Odabashian does.
“Parallel Worlds” succeeds both as a narrative and as a rock concert, but it is the particular ways in which these two separate disciplines interact that make the show so fresh and surprising. The story makes some impressive gambles which pay off remarkably; Beckner and the rest of the creative team show a real willingness to push boundaries, and thus while each of the elements of the show may feel standard on their own, “Parallel Worlds” ultimately offers something that is unpredictable and consistently entertaining.
“Parallel Worlds: A New Rock Music Experience” is performed Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through June 26 at CAP Studio (13752 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks 91423). For tickets and more information, visit parallelworldsexperience.com.