Life, love, kick-ass music in Bengsons’ Hundred Days

Mar 06

EXTENDED THROUGH APRIL 13
Hundred Days 1
Abigail Bengson and Shaun Bengson, the husband-and-wife duo known as The Bengsons, star in the ravishing new rock musical Hundred Days, a world premiere at Z Space. Below: The complete Hundred Days company (from left): Amy Lizardo, Melissa Kaitlyn Carter, El Beh, Kate Kilbane, Abigail Bengson, Geneva Harrison, Shaun Bengson, Joshua Pollock, Dalane Mason, Reggie White. Photos by James Faerron

In those moments, when the music and voices are soaring, the drums are pounding, the feet are stomping and the hands are clapping, there’s no better place to be than sitting in Z Space fully immersed in the glorious new rock musical Hundred Days.

A creation by The Bengsons, the musical duo comprising spouses Abigail Bengson and Shaun Bengson, Hundred Days is an unconventional musical that is so much more than it seems. Director Anne Kauffman and book writer Kate E. Ryan have taken everything glorious about The Bengsons – including the passion, the humor, the warmth, the soul-stirring music – and helped craft a canny show about what it is to live and to love in the truest, most wholehearted sense.

Hundred Daysbegins as a casual affair. The cavernous Z Space theater looks like it’s set up for a rock concert. The great wall of windows, which is usually covered by heavy drapes to make it seem less industrial and more theatrical, is fully exposed, so headlights of passing cars are visible throughout the two-hour show. The 11 members of the ensemble, musicians and singers, ambles out, and The Bengsons take their places in front, music stand in front of them to help guide their way into the show.

If this musical ended up being like GrooveLily’s Striking 12, an excellent storytelling rock concert musical, that would not be a bad thing. The Bengsons begin telling their story of a young couple, Sarah and Will, who meet at a party, quickly fall in love and just as quickly get married. The bulk of Act 1 is telling their romantic tale punctuated by rousing songs that have the foot-stomping, feel-good-folk vibe that has made groups like Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros so beloved. A concert/play by The Bengsons and company would be more than worth attending.

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But this is where the clever construction of the show factors in. Once Sarah and Will’s story is established, life throws them a big curveball. Will is diagnosed with a terminal diseases and has, at best, 100 days left. So this young couple throws the curveball a curveball by making a bold choice. They will live the rest of their lives, fully and eventfully, in those 100 days even if it means they have to shut out the rest of the world and kick their willing suspension of disbelief into high gear to do it.

By Act 2, we’re in a totally different show. Even Kris Stone’s seemingly non-set set has revealed some surprises (including a stunning “sands in the hourglass” effect), and the storytelling is shared by actor/singers Reggie D. White and Amy Lizardo, who play Sarah and Will alongside The Bengsons. This is the only place where the show falters, and it has nothing to do with White or Lizardo, who both make strong impressions. It’s just that The Bengsons make such a strong connection that it’s hard to relinquish any of their storytelling time to anyone else. The other Sarah and Will execute the gentle, emotionally driven choreography by Joe Goode, they sing well, and they enact the willful fast forward of the young couple’s marriage. But then a song like “Three Legged Dog” comes along in which Abigail Bengson rips the show to shreds with her searing vocal performance – part Alanis Morissette, part tribal warrior, part Edith Piaf – and it’s hard to track anyone else within the story.

It seems that part of the reason for the shadow actors is to keep an emotional remove as a way to banish sentimentality in the telling of a sad story. But the show and the score are sturdy enough to withstand any amount of sentimentality, which is primarily wrought here through the raw emotion of the Begnsons’ songs, which are so powerfully performed by their composers and by the entire company.

There’s some DNA from other unconventional musicals here – Passing Strange, Spring Awakening, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Once – but Hundred Days feels like such an authentic piece of The Bengsons that comparisons ultimately fail to convey just how vital Abigail and Shaun are to this beguiling enterprise. Sure, other people could do it, but it’s hard to imagine a connection – to the material, to the ensemble, to the audience – as strong as theirs.

Hundred Days is a glorious creation encompassing joy, grief and transcendence, sometimes within the space of a single song. The show should go on to have a long, vibrant life because, in the words of the show, it’s a “pin in the map” experience.

[bonus video]
Please enjoy The Bengsons and company performing the song “Hundred Days.” I am a universe indeed.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Hundred Days continues an extended run through April 13 at Z Space, 450 Florida St., San Francisco. Tickets are $10-$100. Call 866-811-4111 or visit www.zspace.org.

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