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Review: With The Needle That Sings In Her Heart @ Lexington High School Auditorium

Explaining the premise of this production is a chore when the person you’re speaking to is not as music-crazy as some of us. The conversation starts like this, “So it’s a production partially directed by Amanda Palmer, she was in the Dresden Dolls, and it’s got a lot of music from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, that’s an album by this band Neutral Milk Hotel, they’re like Indie Gods, and it’s all based on Anne Frank and the Holocaust”, and all you receive is a vacant stare and you get told that you are crazy for going out to see a high school production on a Thursday night.

But for us crazies, this premise sounded extremely interesting and just had to be seen. This intriguing combination received a lot of both indie and local attention. I am glad to report that this production exceeded all my expectations. The two-hour-one-act performance begins with what Palmer’s website describes as the “Pre-show’ which was essentially 15 minutes of a bizarre vaudeville scene with a healthy dose of berating the audience.

And then the real show began, and it was real dark (they say not to bring children under 12, I’d say that’s fair). The play was written by the cast, Palmer called it a an “ensemble piece” at the conclusion of the night. The dialogue all came out of what I gather were improvisation sessions lead by Lexington High School drama teacher Steven Bogart.

The recurring theme of the scenes is abrupt back-and-forth between fantasy and reality. For example, the Anne Frank character - played by the talented Emma Feinberg - is in a glamorous fantasy at a restaurant one second, and then BANG she is back in reality at the Concentration Camp surrounded by forced labor, sexual exploitation and death.

The supporting cast was great, but the majority of the vocal performance fell on leading man Alex Parrish who did a fantastic job with the challenging vocal styles of Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel’s lead vocalist). That’s no easy task, Mangum’s style is quite unique and features a lot of drawn out syllables, half-step movements, strange jumps in pitch - just really hard stuff to sing.

A few of the songs were performed with just Parrish and his acoustic guitar and others were even more sparse where he would sing portions of songs a capella. The tunes with the full band sounded great too, Palmer played some keyboard and there was a great horn section from the school. Particularly classy was the trumpeter gently accompanying Parrish from stage right on the song Communist Daughter.

And the technical production - close to flawless - was especially impressive on the opening night of a high school play. They had pre-recorded sound effects, musical interludes, multiple levels of well crafted scenery, a gigantic bathtub as well as the gate to the concentration camps descending from the ceiling multiple times.

While they took some liberty with the album order, the finale was still the track that closes the disc (Two Headed Boy Part II) and it featured this ridiculous scene with the entire ensemble exuberantly dancing and using musical instruments as props.

Get this… the scenes and music segued in and out of each other so seamlessly that the crowd didn’t erupt into applause until the conclusion of the production - I couldn’t believe it. The show wasn’t without its laughs, there were some jokes made by drunk Nazi guards that the crowd seemed unsure if they were supposed to chuckle at or not. A scene that featured three Greek Gods was by far the most lighthearted moment of the night.

At the end of the show Palmer announced to the audience that Saturday night’s performance is almost sold out, but tickets are still available for tonight’s show as well as the Saturday matinee. The High School is at 251 Waltham Street in Lexington. Don’t live in the Greater Boston area? You can tune in and catch the webcast of Saturday night’s performance at at 7:30pm.