Something magical happened to Matt Marks‘ post-Christian nihilist pop opera The Little Death: Vol. 1, when it was preparing for its current staging at Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery. What had been a great collection of smart, sometimes silly, pop songs in the guise of a gently confusing pop opera has evolved into a smartly staged, well focused piece of musical theater.
While Marks’ excellent music provided the building blocks, director Rafael Gallegos has built a solid foundation and has cemented the building block together to form an elegant theatrical environment for the Marks’ eerie love story.
Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? was blown away (pun intended) by Thursday night’s premiere performance of the staged version. That’s quite a contrast to my reaction to the semi-staged version presented by Marks’ label, New Amsterdam Records, in March. Although I loved the sample- and hymn-heavy music, the overall feel of the piece left me a bit uneasy. It was hard to discern what Marks was trying to do. Was he making fun of Christianity or exploring the quirks and limitations of the faith context in which he was raised? Songs like “I Like Stuff,” are the types of catchy tunes that every producer wants in a musical — ones that the audience can easily hum on the way out of the theater. The lyrics are no less catchy, but that where things became a bit unsettling — when the singers compare liking hamsters and ice cream and rainbows to liking Jesus.
The piece uses recognizable samples and large chunks of Christian hymnody as the basis for some of its songs that loosely tell the story of a blossoming love affair between Boy (Marks) and Girl (soprano Mellissa Hughes), backed up by a four-member choir. Another thing that left me feeling uneasy in that early viewing was the fact that the story starts with Boy shooting Girl before time-traveling back to the start of their relationship. Marks describes Vol. 1 as “the first half of our story.”