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Amanda Palmer pleases with Lexington High production
Playing with Doll

By Jim Sullivan | Saturday, May 9, 2009 | http://www.bostonherald.com | Local Coverage

How many high-profile rockers make a U-turn and go back to their high school - and their drama teacher - to collaborate on a school musical?

Perhaps only one: Amanda Palmer, Lexington High School class of ’94. And if you know anything about Palmer, 33, you know she isn’t doing anything remotely like “High School Musical.”

The Dresden Dolls singer-pianist and sometimes solo artist worked with Lexington High director-writer Steven Bogart to create “With the Needle that Sings in Her Heart,” which opened its weekend run Thursday night in the school’s auditorium. It’s a surreal story centered around Anne Frank and set in a concentration camp.

Palmer and Bogart were inspired by alt-rock band Neutral Milk Hotel’s 1998 “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” and eight songs from the album appear in the two-hour play. Palmer also leads a six-piece band, and occasionally roams the stage in the silent role of, as she called it, “the Mary Poppins death ringmaster.” She picks up the vocal in “Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2,” as well, singing: “God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life.”

Why did Palmer do it?

“She feels a great sense of happiness being able to give back,” said her mother, Katharine Mockett, before Thursday’s opening performance. “She grew up in an atmosphere like that. You give of your gifts.”

After the play, Palmer said she felt relieved.

“Given the fact that we were teaching until the doors opened,” she said, “I’m amazed at how well it came together.”

The post-show buzz was palpable. “It was amazingly staged,” said Sarah Michaels, a teacher at Clark University. “It’s a fight between the hope for a better place and reality.”

“I enjoyed it immensely,” said Michael Winn, a Palmer fan from Merrimack, N.H. “It was well put-together, and the mood carried through. The funny parts, when you found yourself laughing, it was OK, because it wasn’t real.”

“It was interesting the way it was integrated,” said Emerson College student Jon Davies, a Lexington High grad who composed last year’s musical. “There are the fantasies, and there are the fantasies being destroyed. ”