Needless to say, it would be difficult to argue against the assertion that Martin Scorsese is the best film director of the last 50 years. Never has a visionary more proficiently demonstrated the visceral fortitude of characters so raw, and the cities they live in as rife with harrowing verisimilitude. The lasting images and words from his movies have become entwined with pop culture because they pull no punches unless they have to.
Los Angeles-based company, For The Record, which has solidified a superb reputation beginning in 2010 with homages to other celebrated directors – including Quentin Tarantino, John Hughes, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Baz Luhrmann – has produced Scorsese: American Crime Requiem, playing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts through October 16th. With a fantastic cast of 12 performers, two of which are understudies, Scorsese: American Crime Requiem incorporates six influential Scorsese films and songs from their corresponding soundtracks – those being Casino, The Departed, Goodfellas, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and The Wolf of Wall Street – in a multi-narrative-driven tapestry, not unlike former best picture Crash, culminating in enough firepower to raise every single fiber of hair off the back of every person’s neck.
Unequivocally, the cast members, who bring the vision of Shane Scheel and Anderson Davis (the latter of whom is the director) to vivid life, deserve much credit for their elite talent. Jason Paige, who has been with For The Record since the company’s birth, patterns his character after the legendary Joe Pesci – and he nails it. From the nasal, tough-guy voice, to the vitriolic machismo and compellingly rock-star grit, Paige’s vocal quality is a mix between Luciano Pavarotti and AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson. Dionne Gipson (Diane), another For The Record original, infuses her character with a pleasing likability and soothing nature that is best exemplified by her sweetly sensuous rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
In addition, Justin Mortelliti brings a voraciously energetic timbre to Jordan Belfort of The Wolf of Wall Street, and does so while in uncanny physical shape given the fact that he never seems out of breath while pounding his chest, running up and down the aisles, and effortlessly transitioning between singing notes. Moreover, Tony Award-Nominee Carmen Cusack, who portrays Sharon Stone’s Ginger from Casino, and Tony-Award Winner John Lloyd Young, who interprets Robert De Niro’s Sam of the same film, play off each other wonderfully. For instance, Cusack sings with turbulent emotion in the midst of gut-wrenchingly contorting her body and acting scorned; and, conversely, Young imbues Sam with a De Niro-like poise and unflappability in the face of fear – a contributing factor to which are his coolly colorful suits.
By a similar token, Goodfellas is predominantly brought to life by Pia Toscano (Karen) and Zak Resnick (Henry), who are another couple with their own sometimes destructively fiery passion. Toscano, who is a former American Idol contestant, never falters as she belts out one note after another, and Resnick does an admirable job of trying to seem in control of the madness around him, which is also reflected in his version of “My Way” (Paul Anka).
Yet, the harsh and unforgiving reality of Scorsese’s predilection for intensely bone-chilling cinema is perhaps no better represented than by the Travis Bickle character from Taxi Driver. Performer James Byous brings a well-meaning, but raucous, intensity to Bickle with his soaring tenor voice, which oftentimes come across as heartfelt pleas to be simply understood. As Bickle’s female counterpart, Iris, Olivia Harris (who substituted for Lindsey Gort on October 4th), taps into a seductive vulnerability and softness that balances well with Byous’ unbridled temperament.
Overall, though, the central connective force of the musical is B. Slade (Stacks), who mostly exists as a bystander to the poignant, and sometimes violent, proceedings before becoming more involved and letting completely loose with transcendent vocals during the “House of the Rising Sun” (Alan Price) epilogue. Slade, who is a prolific vocalist in his own right – having released hundreds of songs over the last several decades – channels another dimension within himself to sing with incredible robustness and clarity that must be experienced in order to be believed.
Surely, Scorsese: American Crime Requiem is highly recommended for reinvigorating Martin Scorsese’s iconic characters in a brand-new world where they sing with preeminent precision and interact as combustible, but indelible, elements.
For more information about Scorsese: American Crime Requiem, and about future shows at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, please visit thewallis.org