AN AUDIENCE FAVORITE (and critical pick) of this year's Fringe Theater Festival, Ballyhoo by Michael McQuilkin and John Osebold has been revived and revivified under the direction of Open Circle's departing artistic director Scott Bradley. This two-man rock opera is a splendidly frenzied steeplechase of a show, a science-fiction comedy about a future society run by a cadre of salesmen, the Friendly Joes. The Joes not only take care of your entertainment needs, they also seem to have a corner on some other essentials for a happy life, like snack foods. And trees. And water. And air. In fact, if you aren't buying from the Joes, you might end up stuck in a chemical storm with your hands glued to your face, babbling unintelligibly.
Open Circle Theater, ends August 5
Unfortunately, their products seem to have some serious side effects. You drink "new and improved water" ("How blue it is!") and you get stupider. You buy their all-in-one fun device Pop-A-Doo and you get more violent. The media that reports each product as an important news event blames all of these effects not on the products, but on a mysterious group of terrorists known only as the Bellboys.
McQuilkin and Osebold's music is driving and sometimes overpowering, but it's hard to argue that the subject matter doesn't suit it. (There's also one melodic piece, "Planet of Water," that's deliriously tranquil.) Bradley's direction and the higher production values of this remount are generally a good thing. Ken Powers and Janet Schook's costumes for the boys feature lapels that drape almost to their midriffs, and Jason Dittmer's set design gives some much-needed variety to the movement. Pulled out of the black box that it premiered in, the piece does lose a bit of its in-your-face power. But the show's final number, when the duo departs from their prerecorded soundtrack to grab hold of guitar and drum, is a bravura concept and a triumphant vindication of live entertainment; unlike so much else you encounter these days, it wakes you up.