Staff Writer/Fact Checker/Editor
Well, it’s about time someone decided to actively point out everything wrong with music in theatrical form – or better yet, give us a forecast of what’s to come in the next few years. Love Me Forever Billy H. Tender does just that. I’m shaking under my many blankets just thinking about it.
Reporting live at Videofag is none other than Hal Tender (played by playwright and performer Jesse LaVercombe), the younger brother and devoted fan of our eponymous pop star-suddenly-turned-folk musician (also portrayed by LaVercombe), who recalls one of Billy’s concerts on Jan. 31, 2021, the day Billy realizes that his fans aren’t as supportive of his decision to change artistic directions as he thought they’d be.
Meanwhile, the boys’ mother and former Canadian stage actress, Stella (once again, portrayed by LaVercombe), now works as a research assistant at the University of Guelph in the Post-Audience Theatre Theory and Semiotics Department as a result of the stress she feels from performing in front of people, and enjoys engaging in phone sex in her spare time. Hal is pretty much is left alone with barely anyone to genuinely interact with.
As far as premises go, this is definitely a strong narrative. Going into it, I initially thought the performance would essentially be a rant about the nadir of music with some songs to highlight major characteristics of today’s culture, but LaVercombe takes it a step further and weaves subtleties and implications about how music will not only influence the way we think, but also the way we will live, behave and talk into his storytelling. Not only is that more original and entertaining, but it also shows us the lifestyles that could very well be the norm years from now. That’s some subliminal cautionary tale-telling right there.
I also like the symbolism behind Billy singing his folk songs live versus lip-syncing to his pop songs on playback. Both LaVercombe and Adrian Shepherd did a great job capturing the defining features of folk and pop songs respectively in their music and sound design, with the folk songs containing witty and story-driven lyrics, and the pop songs being nearly incomprehensible and yet so darn catchy. We already see this sort of thing happening frequently, and it makes us wonder what the point of live performance is, thereby questioning notions of authenticity.
LaVercombe’s singing voice is well-suited for both genres, although there were times when it felt like he was slightly out of tune.
There were also several instances where it seemed like he wasn’t quite sure what to do with his body while singing. There was one scene where he was tumbling about that garnered a lot of laughs, and I wish he’d done more of that. He also flubbed a fair amount of lines, and I know some of it was intentional, seeing as how he was mainly portraying a naïve and wide-eyed 15-year-old, but at other times it didn’t give that same impression.
I found his hands-on-hips, sultry and clearly troubled Stella to be amusing and engaging, although I think he should have altered his voice more to really allow this female character to shine.
His ability to oscillate between optimism and pure rage is astonishingly believable. In fact, I noticed that his strength as a performer lies in showcasing extremes and I say this because his performance is confused when in the middle zone. In these instances, his pauses seem out of place and awkward. There isn’t as much buildup or wind down as I would’ve liked to see, and the quieter moments come off as rather stoic.
The show is a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s one that shouldn’t be dismissed. Although it has some t’s to cross and i’s to dot, it nevertheless has clever lines, fun choreography, heavier moments and enough humor that outweigh the flaws for the most part.
Directed by Adam Lazarus, Love Me Forever Billy H. Tender is playing until Jan. 12 at Videofag, located on 187 Augusta Avenue. To get tickets online, go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2468719.