Powerhouse, now running at the New Ohio Theatre, is based on the life and career of Raymond Scott. Scott was a composer, band leader for the CBS Radio band, and innovator in electronic music. He also happened to write music that accompanied many classic Looney Tunes cartoon shorts, reenacted in the show by some very talented puppeteers. (Seriously, these guys nearly steal the whole show.)
At first, Powerhouse seems like a paint-by-numbers story. An eccentric artist is misunderstood by his peers. He demands perfection and makes some enemies, but he manages to find love and mainstream success. The difference with Powerhouse is that the story doesn’t end there. According to the play, Raymond’s obsession to make people understand what was going on inside his mind consumed him and only further isolated him from the people around him.
What I really love about Powerhouse and the character of Raymond is his struggle to create perfect music as he hears it in his head, using new technology. It is so specific and yet so universal. Everyone wants to be understood purely and wholly, but it is impossible. Language has its limitations, and every person is going to filter what they hear with their own biases and life experiences. With the universal language of music, Raymond does not trust his compositions with anyone except himself. He wants to cut all collaboration out of music so that theoretically, listeners will hear exactly what he wants them to hear. Even then, he is unhappy with the result. What he wants is impossible to achieve, but like every other human being, he keeps striving to be understood. He just happens to go about it in a very different way. Erik Lochtefeld as Raymond Scott is really fantastic and keeps the audience invested, even when Raymond isn’t particularly sympathetic.
There are only a few changes that I would make to the show. First, I would tweak the opening a bit. I think some of the expository narration is far too generic and ordinary considering how extraordinary the rest of the show is. Second, as a general rule, I am not a fan of older actors playing young children, and the first few scenes with Dorothy Collins as a child reminded me of John C. Reilly and Kristen Wiig in Walk Hard. “You’re only 14!” “I’m Dewey’s 12-year-old girlfriend!” It is nothing against Hanley Smith, who plays Dorothy Collins, but I would prefer to have a child actress cast as a Dorothy. Seeing a child in that role would make Raymond’s grooming of Dorothy musically and romantically much more disturbing.
Powerhouse is playing at the New Ohio Theatre from November 3 to 23, Tuesday thru Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM, with an additional 8 PM performance on Monday, November 3 and no performance on Tuesday, November 4. Ticket pricing ranges from $15 to $45 with a limited number of $18 for patrons under 25 years old available at the box office on the night of the show with valid ID. Tickets can be purchased by calling 1-888-596-1027 or online at Powerhouse-ThePlay.com.
New Ohio Theatre
154 Christopher Street (between Greenwich and Washington Streets)