I Entered Jerusalem...

And left after three-hours when the show was over and the curtain fell.

The show was PHENOMENAL. Readers? You must know by now that a Broadway show is both a place of escape and entertainment for me. What it is usually not? A thought-provoking, mind-blowing experience. In fact, I have not been enthused by a show like this in quite some time.

First off, the show in question:

Interesting, amiright? I seldom see a non-musical show on Broadway because…well, without the music and explosive production value, there is less bang for the buck. In addition, any stage-drama can lapse into boring or tiresome if shoddily executed (See What the Public Wants). Jerusalem ticket prices were on pace with any currently-running musical; if I did not rush the show for $26.50, I probably would not have seen it.

Then again, because I am a publicity-oriented person, can I look at word-of-mouth raves like this…

…and ignore them? Doubtful; I would like to give myself the benefit of the doubt and think I would be open-minded to shell out the big bucks for a ticket. That, plus John Gallagher Jr., my favorite performer, was cast as a last minute addition to the show’s Broadway run. That just about sealed the deal for me; it also made for an evening out with two of my favorite gal pals, Amy and Courtney.

Johnny "Rooster" Byron, impeccably
portrayed by Mark Rylance
What is the show about exactly…it is stretched over a span of 36 hours or so in a modern day woodland area in England, starting with the rave that took place from the above video. The morning after…it all starts to go down; Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron awakens in a hazy manner. As the supporting ensemble reveal themselves, the fast-slinging English jargon, witty jokes and drama unfold right before the audience’s eyes.

The show is mostly a character study set to the backdrop of several plot points. Some of those plot points include:

-       Rooster is on the verge of eviction from the forest grounds he has lived on for the last few decades. On these grounds, he is a “Pied Piper” to young runaways looking for alcohol and drugs.

-       Authorities and family members are searching for a missing girl, who is suspected to be seen last on Rooster’s property.

-       Lee, one of the junkie runaways that Rooster sheltered, is hours away from leaving England for a different lifestyle in Australia. The occasion calls for one last alcohol/drug-fueled celebration.

-       Rooster is anticipated to take his estranged son to the (reputably terrible) county fair, which brings about discussion of Rooster’s less-spoken past as a daredevil and a confrontation with his ex.

There are several others, but I think I nailed the main ones. And as the “character study” label suggests, these constructs drive the action without being the primary focus. With a show comprised of interesting, three-dimensional and over-the-top characters (in a BRILLIANT way), plus many undercurrent themes, why take away from it? One word that I would not describe Jerusalem? Overworked. A nice harmony is struck by letting the ensemble do their job.

"Jerusalem" by William Blake. What
started it all...
Let me elaborate on that last point, because if there is something that truly astounds me about this production, is how much thought went into the story and writing. As noted in the “Director’s Notes” of the playbill, the idea of “Jerusalem” is important in English culture, so much so it represents a sense of idealism while also being a rousing melody. Adapted from a William Blake poem in the early 19th century, “Jerusalem” takes on several meanings beyond the simple metaphor of “heaven on earth.” Blake, a revolutionary charged with high treason, takes “Jerusalem” out of context by putting a different perspective on it…a sort-of “Jerusalem is in the eye of the beholder” stance.

A map of Wilkshire, England. Every playbill
should contain more detailed stuff like this.
What I love about integrating Blake’s philosophy as a starting point is that he removed himself from society amidst fully-realizing his own ideas. A lot of his writing, by his own admission, is based on the concept of “modern society”…except he openly admits that he has no idea of what a modern society is nor has he had any substantiated contact. Sheer brilliance!

Oh, what I would give to have lunch with this guy.

Why am I talking about this…not only is it interesting to me (and I hope I am not only here), but one thing I noticed about the characters, setting and story is that they would work well set in many different time periods. Because it is set in modern day Wilkshire, England, these characters and the story - especially Rooster’s former daredevil, tall-tale spinning, melodramatic, drug-dealing parent to young runaways – would not only be loathed by today’s idea of a “modern society,” they would not even exist. As it turns out, I was convinced by the end that this sullen camp ground, full of hijinx and rejects, works as a "Jerusalem" for those affiliated to it.

What else happens…thanks to the most incredible acting ensemble I have ever seen, the audience is pulled into this intriguing fantasy world of large tales and larger-then-life personalities. By the end, we have grown attached to the very characters we would hate according to society’s idea of “normal” and “different.” For all the thought and creative energy put into this show, it looks effortless on stage.

My Halloween costume next
year? Maybe!
While I occasionally give into hyperbole, I cannot express how well the cast is committed to bringing fully realized characters to the table.

Of the ensemble, I have the three leads to single out. Not surprisingly at all, John Gallagher Jr. does a bang-up job joining the pre-existing London cast in the Broadway adaptation. From nailing the thick English accent to bringing an endearing charisma to the lost but fun Lee, he slips right in and holds his own. It is worth noting that this is his first non-musical Broadway role since before Spring Awakening back in 2007; it is nice to know he does not have to rest on his stunning vocals to carry a performance. Lee has an amazing dialogue scene, a personal favorite, with a friend about the meaning of a name and how changing one’s name does not change the person or his/her impression. Without revealing all the details, it really flipped my mind.

Mackenzie Crook, left, with John Gallagher Jr., right,
turning in great performances as Ginger and Lee respectively.
Next up: Mackenzie Crook, whom may be known to American audiences as the pirate with a missing eye in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. He plays Ginger, an older runaway and “pal” of Rooster’s who is trying to kick-start a career as a DJ. Since a lot of the show is playful bantering between the ensemble, this puts his acting to great use. He occasionally pops in as the voice of reason in the already eccentric environment; whether being comedic or dramatic, Crook brings a lot to this character.

The legendary performance worth the price of admission alone…
Bow down! We are not worthy, Mr. Rylance!
...Mark Rylance’s Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron. On stage for about 95% of the show’s running time, this guy never fell out of a character that seems incredibly difficult to nail in the first place. His performance is receiving well-deserved raves and is a lock for the Best Actor Tony. To show how much talent he has and how much the show rides on him, take a look at this...
Understudy for Johnny? Anyone? Anyone? Thought So!
Notice that there no understudy for Rylance? If he does not go on, the show does not go on. Quite frankly, I cannot imagine a single actor doing the role justice; by default, nearly every attempt would be futile. Still, no understudy? Major kudos!

As expected, Rooster is the heart and soul of the show. More then any other character, he represents the mythical undercurrent of Blake’s “green and pleasant land.” This is done through him telling outlandish stories about giants, druids and radical faeries (to name a few)…but because Rylance is that incredible, I found myself wanting to believe the absurdity of his stories and hoping that they will come true or that people will believe him. Given that most of the conflicts revolves around him and his character is more multi-dimensional then originally let on, he becomes easy to root for by the story's end. Similar to the scene with Lee and his friend, the theme of value and pride in one’s name is prominent and got me thinking. A lot.

The "Curtain"
The last half-hour of the show belongs to Rylance in what I describe as a jaw-dropping display of acting that had me laughing, tearing up and stuck in a wide-eyed gaze.

Lastly, the really cool stage completes the picture. The curtain is the flag of England and the stage itself is a re-created forest area with trees, grass, shrubbery and Rooster’s trailer smack-dab in the woods. The costumes were also “good,” meaning “character appropriate.” This was clearly a show that did not need any distractions from those departments; thankfully, both were nicely done and refined.

The cool stage! With the cool cast! Nice job everyone; you've earned
your applause!
If there is anything you should have learned by now, is that you should get on over to the Music Box theater and buy a ticket to Jerusalem (or buy a ticket online, if that is you roll). It already stands as my favorite show I have seen this Broadway season, but it is likely that will remain true after running the entire gamut. Who knows? We’ll have to see…

In the meantime, it is just a waiting game to see Mark Rylance take down the Tony award we all know he will win and for the show to gain more publicity. The entire world needs to see this show to understand what I am talking about; this is a soon-to-be classic show that will stand the test of time and earn many fans, young and old, for its achievement in entertainment and thought-provoking elements.

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