Review: ‘Electric Lucifer,’ or the Passion of the Bleep Bloop Beep
Posted January 11, 2018 11:39 p.m. EST
NEW YORK — A bad-trip “Jesus Christ Superstar,” a “Godspell” set to an EDM beat, a paradise that gets very, very lost. This is “Electric Lucifer,” Jim Findlay’s gonzo staging of two albums by the Canadian electronic music pioneer Bruce Haack, who died in 1988.
A children’s music artist and the inventor of the Dermatron, a synthesizer activated by the heat of skin, Haack released “The Electric Lucifer” on Columbia Records in 1970 and a follow-up eight years later. With their bloops, bleeps and bizarro version of the synoptic gospels, these concept albums ultimately describe an epic battle for the soul of the universe that encompasses Lucifer’s fall, Christ’s passion and the coming Armageddon.
The production, at the Kitchen, begins with a sweet curiosity, a video of Haack visiting “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and demonstrating a synthesizer. Then the lights pulse, the way-out band grooves and a chorus in spandex starts to writhe.
There are calls of “Program me!” and shout-outs to electricity, alongside a greatest-hits version of Jesus’ life, which skips from birth to arrest and crucifixion. In a nifty bit of staging, Findlay has a thorn-crowned Jesus (Robert M. Johanson) swaddled in a high-tech loincloth and then hoisted several feet above the stage to hover and bleed.
Findlay’s enthusiasm for Haack’s material, which has been adapted and supplemented by Philip White, is obvious in every blinding light and skintight get-up and trumpet blast. His approach suggests a Christmas pageant on the dark side of the moon, but it’s pretty much a mess, with lyrics swallowed by the voice synthesizers and dancers flinging themselves pointlessly around the plastic-sheeted stage. (The choreography is by Raja Feather Kelly, the set by Findlay and Jeff Sugg.)
A longtime member of the cheeky Collapsable Giraffe company, Findlay is a veteran theater maker, and so he must have a reason for this chintzy depravity. He should share it.
The one fixed star is Lucifer herself, sinuous and serpentlike as played by the reliably electrifying Okwui Okpokwasili. Of course the devil gets all the best songs and every note she sings peals true. With Okpokwasili onstage, it’s paradise now.
“Electric Lucifer” runs through Jan. 13 at the Kitchen; thekitchen.org. (1:15)