LOU’S VIEWS: Joyful ‘Noise!’ in Fountain Square

This week, a monthly singing showcase in Fountain Square. Plus, thoughts on Bands of America’s Grand National Championship and Blue Man Group.

In most performance situations, there are audience members and there are performers, and these two groups are distinct and separate.

At the Noise! cabaret—a once-a-month event now housed at Fountain Square’s White Rabbit Cabaret—those lines are blurred completely. Most of the audience members are there to sing, the singers hang out in the audience, and gentle heckling, supportive shouts, and voices in harmony come from both sides of the footlights.

The premise is simple: Musical theater performers and wannabees come by and sing a song—preferably a show tune—or two. But rather than going the karaoke route, Noise! features the versatile Todd Hawks, one of the event’s organizers, as host and keyboardist so there are no electronic lyrics to read. Many of the singers may be familiar from performances at Footlite Musicals, Indianapolis Civic Theatre, Theatre on the Square and elsewhere (Angela Manlove, Scot Greenwell, etc.); others have less extensive resumes. All are enthusiastically welcome.

While some performers come armed with sheet music, others plow through a stack of much-thumbed music books by the side of the stage. November’s edition included show tune standbys (“The Ladies Who Lunch” and “Suddenly Seymour”), familiar songs given a twist (Brent Marty singing the Rizzo ballad

“There are Worse Things I Could Do” from “Grease”), musical geek favorites (“Lost in the Wilderness” from “Children of Eden” and “It Takes Two” from “Into the Woods”), and plenty from Jason Robert Brown (including two from “The Last Five Years,” which has become the gold standard for young Broadway lovers). Songs by Patty Griffin and James Taylor also found their way into the mix.

Table-hopping makes for a constantly shifting audience landscape and some may be put off by the volume in the crowd rather than seeing it as an indication of the party-among-friends atmosphere. The show starts at 10, the better to accommodate singers appearing in shows elsewhere. On my visit, the music went until after 1, winding down on a high note (a bring-down-the-house duet on “What About Love?” from “The Color Purple”) rather than a fadeout.

Was it all outstanding? Of course not—but since this is an open mic, I don’t see a reason to specify which acts didn’t quite deliver. A successful evening of this kind is defined not by its occasional missteps but by its atmosphere and its quality peeks (and, of course, its cover price and drink quality).

Result: a circle around the second Friday of each month on my day planner—even though I’m not a singer—in hopes that I’ll get there again over the next few months. You don’t have to participate to enjoy. More information can be found at www.noiseindy.com.

For abstract art, you could go to the Indianapolis Museum of Art or one of dozens of galleries in town.

Or, Nov. 10-13, you could have gone to Lucas Oil Stadium.

No, there wasn’t a visual art installation that you hadn’t heard about. I’m talking about Bands of America’s Grand National Championships.

Think about it: Could our most mind-bending visual artists come up with anything as conceptually out there as the newsprint-costumed dancers, the accordionist, the giant paintbrush, the massive eyeball, the dozens of bicycles, the set of biggie-sized EMT paddles, and the parade of seven deadly sins?

Yet all of that was happening as high school marching bands from around the country (OK, mostly the Midwest and Texas) showed what musicianship, coordination and discipline can do when mixed with a healthy dose of “what-the-heck” craziness.

And, once again, the Grand National Championships proved to be an event impressive for what it was and what it implied.

As spectacle, it generously provoked a “what am I going to see next?” excitement.

And as a sign of hope for the future, it’s encouraging. On display were thousands of supposedly slacker teen-agers who spent untold hours participating in a relatively anonymous event—one in which the good of the whole outweighs the ego of the individual. A few may go on to be professional musicians or music educators. Many more, though, will go to lives with an ingrained understanding of what it’s like to be part of a team getting a very difficult job done well.

If I were an employer, I’d pay closer attention to anyone’s resume with “marching band” on it.

I’m guessing that if you asked half the audience at Clowes Hall Nov. 12-14 if they had any interest in performance art, most of them would say no.

But they happily attended Blue Man Group’s most recent Indianapolis visit with hearts and minds open to the paint-splattering drums, Twinkie projectiles, toilet paper streamers, dueling electronic message boards, and goo-emitting chest plates that are part of the trio’s act.

I entered as a BMG newbie, unaware how much of the show featured redone material. As such, I wasn’t disappointed that the dining-with-the-elderly-audience-member, the gumball-into-the-mouth tosses, the swinging human paintbrush and more were also included in earlier shows.

Instead, I embraced Blue Man Group as a celebration of being quirkily human. “We are different,” the blue-hued guys said without actually saying anything, “and that’s fun. So let’s see what we can create together.”

That a group with this much on-stage stuff can make its performance seem so spontaneous is remarkable. And worth celebrating.•


This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com. Twitter: IBJArts and follow Lou Harry’s A&E blog at www.ibj.com/arts.

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