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Redmoon's Winter Pageant Flies Fancy

By Casey Cora | December 16, 2013 7:24am
 Aided by a surf rock band and whimsical costumes, the theater group's annual production aims to dazzle.
Redmoon Winter Pageant
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LOWER WEST SIDE — The Redmoon theater company describes its Winter Pageant production as a story about a "brave pigeon's unlikely quest to return light to a magical world of birds."

And that's true, in a sense.

But it's also a tale that can probably only be told through Redmoon's signature dose of dazzling whimsy, complete with interludes by pedal-powered rolling percussion cart, high-flying acrobatics, monkey masks, bird costumes, light tricks and shadow puppetry.

The group's annual Winter Pageant kicked off this weekend and runs for just one more, with performances scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The theater is at 2120 S. Jefferson St.

"The core value behind Winter Pageant and everything that we do at Redmoon is the idea of coming together with a group of friends and family and loved ones and ... creating a sense of momentary joy," said artistic associate Will Bishop, 23, of Pilsen.

Aside from a few musical interludes that include pre-recorded belly dancing music and old-timey cartoon music pumped from a giant Victrola prop, much of the production's music comes from San Andreas Fault, a four-piece surf rock group formed by Bridgeport's Rob Warmowski.

So how exactly does surf rock — with its rollicking drum backbeat and reverb-packed guitar chords (think "Wipeout!") — square with the production, said to be inspired from a 12th Century Sufi poem about birds?

"The kind of music I write starts with an emotional tone or feeling. That's always there. So this [scoring] follows that guiding point and supports a sense of place, a sense of scene and a particular feeling," said Warmowski, 44.

Warmowski, a writer and veteran of the Chicago punk scene, said scoring the 50-minute production was a major departure from the typical bursts of noise punk he plays in his band, SIRS, or in San Andreas Fault, which has reunited after disbanding in 2005.

In Winter Pageant, the sound of the surf group — Warmowski, guitarist Pete Muschong, bassist John Cwiok and drummer Thymme Jones provides the backbone for ethereal dreamy soundscapes, intense drum-driven crescendos and even a foot-stomping gospel tune.

"The biggest challenge was keeping up with the way Redmoon works, because the creative people at Redmoon are an idea machine and the machine never turns off. We were hanging on for dear life to continue giving them what they were asking for," Warmowski said.

The marriage between the band's music and the actors' mystical, high-energy performance isn't the only incongruous collaboration happening on the stage, housed within a massive converted warehouse.

The production features about 50 performers, including dancers from Indian-American troupe Kalapriya, hip-hop dancing from the Happiness Club and belly dancing from Pineapple Studios. At one point, everyone breaks into a "kekac dance," sort of a seated, ritualistic swaying chant.

Last week, as the group's final dress rehearsal wrapped up, Redmoon's co-artistic director Frank Maugeri gathered the cast and crew for one last pep talk before the show's opening night debut.

"We came into this room with very little else than our skills and ambition and we've made a myth in a time when there's very little or no myths," he said. "It's important to keep that with you."

Redmoon's Winter Pageant production takes place 7 p.m. Friday, 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 and 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets, available here, are $25 for adults, $15 for kids and $10 for students with ID. Kids 3 and under are free.