Pioneering Theater – Cages DTLA

I finally have some more time to rededicate to other things and, while I have a substantial backlog of films to get to with Awards Season approaching, I am going to bump in an exception. I don’t typically post about live theater performances, although I do see a fair amount. However, after finally having the opportunity to check out Cages, there’s no way I wasn’t going to talk about it.

Set in the monochromatic, neo-noir world of Anhedonia, emotions have been banished in the name of safety and order. A reclusive musician named Woolf becomes an unlikely hero in his quest to reunite with the one he loves.

As you first approach the unbecoming industrial space in Downtown Los Angeles, it’s tough to grasp what waits for you on the other side of the black entry door. As you step inside the first room in staggered groups, you cross over into a meticulously crafted library set adorned with vintage books on anatomy (and probably some other creepy stuff) and a variety of scientific instruments surround a two-way mirror projecting a letter from one of the show’s characters.

Grab yourself a cocktail before stepping inside the theater

A custom earthy scent with fiery notes circulates through the dimly lit venue as you pass into the bar and pre-show lounge area. I have been to some other immersive pop-ups but this one extends the level of detail beyond anything I’ve seen so far. Custom cocktails designed by The Chemist (another one of the show’s characters) and each one embodies a different emotion that’s been banished from Anhedonia. Patrons gather around a lifeless tree that sits in the middle of the lounge as they await reporting instructions.

The tree has a commanding presence in the room.

Right about the time that you finish your drink, a booming announcement echoes from the speakers that the fugitive known as Woolf has been captured and you are to report to the theater as a witness. The groups report in order based on a number that’s stamped on each guest at check-in, corresponding to the level of ticket you purchased before. As you make your way to the theater, you pass through an iron gate and make your way down a dark corridor of an Anhedonian street scene. The painstakingly crafted pre-show environment just sets the mood for the one-of-a-kind show you’re about to witness.

The performance itself combines elements of traditional musicals, theater, and film into its own contemporary identity. Influences from Tim Burton’s Sweeny Todd to Metropolis to Equilibrium jumped out immediately. Actors take the stage between a traditional movie screen in the back and a sheer screen in the front as images are projected on both in a tightly choreographed dance between the filmed imagery and the stage direction. Spotlights and strobe lights adorn the theater along with a row of deafening speakers (earplugs are available at the bar). The sequencing of the music and the visuals are quite the sensory experience, and quite unlike anything I have ever seen.

Woolf (CJ Baran) and the Wondershow (Benjamin Romans) are the minds behind the show

The whole show was conceived of and brought to reality from the minds of CJ Baran who stars in the show as Woolf and Benjamin Romans who still live scores the show from a back corner of the theater. The two of them form Woolf and the Wondershow. The pair were put together by their management and the idea for the show formed as a response to questions about shaping musical theater to better suit the music they enjoyed. In short, the answer to that question is yes.

The digital program you can access via QR code details how the music was produced in the Romans’ and Baran’s apartments and recorded by an Orchestra in Prague. More impressively, it was all done over Skype. In order to achieve the stunning visual presentation, the filmed elements of the show were all shot on-site in the custom-built warehouse theater where the show is performed. The creative ingenuity to bring this all together is beyond impressive.

I would love to sit down with these two and pick their brains on how they got from point A to point B with their conceptualization and realization. That might not happen but you can go see Cages for yourself if you’re in the LA area. If not, don’t fear, the show may indeed pop up in other cities over time. Please support local theaters when and where you can. You can check out the promotional trailer for the show below.

Recommendation: Fans of immersive experiences, live theaters, and musicals can all come together to enjoy this show.

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