The Wildness: Sky-Pony's Rock Fairy Tale—Review by Jenna Scherer
There's nothing tentative about The Wildness: Sky-Pony’s Rock Fairy Tale. Stylish and self-assured, it's swaggering, enthusiastic and glammed up from head to toe. Cowriters Kyle Jarrow and Lauren Worsham (collectively theater-rock band Sky-Pony) and director Sam Buntrock know exactly the kind of experience they want you to have: a glitter-splashed, cathartic rager somewhere on the Rent–Hedwig and the Angry Inch–Spring Awakening continuum.
And in many ways, it succeeds: The music is a blast, the performances are all-in, and the production design is supercool. Unfortunately, they all converge on a story that's insubstantial and emotionally simplistic—not to mention reminiscent of a certain M. Night Shyamalan movie (I won't say which, but you can probably guess).
With silky colored scarves serving as tickets, the audience is ushered into a space—exuberantly designed by Kris Stone—that's part nightclub, part Burning Man camp. We're here for the Wildness, an annual tradition in which, Worsham explains, Sky-Pony & Co. get together, get wasted and perform a fairy tale written by an absent friend. It's all tied up in notions of artistic community, celebration and inventing new rituals when inherited ones prove stale.
Most of The Wildness (presented by Ars Nova in collaboration with the Play Company) follows said fairy tale, the adventures of a "messianic princess" (Spring Awakening alum Lilli Cooper) and her devoted servant (Worsham). They live in an isolated village ruled by a king who tells his subjects that they're the only people in the world.
Beyond, of course, lies a dark, mysterious forest—and you can bet that it's going to get ventured into. This main story is interrupted by "Overshares": interludes in which cast and audience members air their doubts about the state of the world. As the show progresses, the framing tale begins to creep into the fantasy.
Jarrow's music is earnest, catchy and a whole lot of fun, and the company sings the hell of out of it—particularly the excellent Cooper. But it's forced to do all the emotional heavy lifting. The Wildness hammers its fairly simplistic themes into the ground, all while delivering a predictable, half-baked story. It walks ground that's been heavily trodden before, and better. A lot of energy—both physical and creative—has been poured into making the show feel fresh and vital; but the inventiveness only goes skin-deep.—Jenna Scherer
Ars Nova (Off Broadway). By Kyle Jarrow and Lauren Worsham. Music by Jarrow. Directed by Sam Buntrock. With Lilli Cooper, Worsham and Jarrow. Running time: 1hr 45mins. No intermission.