Glorious Weightless soars back to SF

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Kate Kilbane (left) and Lila Blue in the rock musical Weightless at ACT’s The Strand. Below: Dan Moses, Kilbane and Brothers bring the story of sisters Procne and Philomela to musical life. Photos by Julie Schuchard

Last year I fell in love with Weightless, the rock musical by The Kilbanes, when it had a triumphant world premiere at Z Space. The show had muscle and heart and passion and staggering beauty. The experience of watching the show was so thrilling it felt like something important was beginning – a new hit musical on its way along the lines of Hadestown or Once but on a slightly different scale, one that finds an intriguing balance between rock concert and rock musical.

(Read my original review here.)

Weightless may yet become the massive hit it so richly deserves to be. A year later, the show is back in San Francisco, this time at American Conservatory Theater’s Strand Theater for a quick two-week run. It’s the same glorious cast/band – the wife-and-husband team of Kate Kilbane and Dan Moses, Lila Blue, Julia Brothers, Josh Pollock and Dan Harris – and the same creative team headed by director Becca Wolff. The biggest difference is that the show has moved from the customized performance space that the marvelously malleable Z Space affords, with audience on three sides of the stage and into a more traditional proscenium situation.

Happily, the Strand is so intimate that very little is lost in transition. The design elements – primarily the gourd-shaped objects of Angrette McCloskey’s set design that hover of the stage are even more effective at catching the lights (by Ray Oppenheimer and the dynamic projection designs (by Hana S. Kim). The nuances of the performances, especially Brothers who plays God in such a way that if I ever find out such a deity exists and it’s not in the image of Brothers channeling David Bowie, I’m going to be shatteringly disappointed. I felt like this time I heard and absorbed more of the score and the story, making it that much more exciting and moving.

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And what a story. Inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Weightless tells the story of inseparable sisters Procne (Kilbane) and Philomela (Blue) and how their love and devotion to one another is threatened and nearly destroyed by a man, Tereus (Pollock). There are lies, betrayals and excruciating violence. There is ferocious anger and revenge. And there is transcendent beauty – all set to a dynamic, heart-grabbing score that combines rock, pop, folk and anything else that sounds good.

Kilbane and Pollock danced the most delicate dance because they have to be raging rock stars – she on bass, he on lead guitar – and deliver high-voltage dramatic performances. Both are tremendous. Blue remains as stunning and as ethereal as ever. Her Philomela hardly seems of this earth. The character is transformed by art and nature even before God interferes and takes that transformation to a whole different level, and her voice ranges from deeply emotional to realms of beauty we are rarely allowed to visit. Every time she and Kilbane combine their voices, it’s like Weightless jolted by bolts of lightning from Mt. Olympus. And I would posit that the driving “Awake” is as exciting as any musical theater moment currently on any stage right now.

As enjoyable as Weightless is, it also has heft. The canny re-crafting of Ovid’s story (which is far more violent and grotesque) allows for more beauty in the telling and makes a strong case for beauty in art and nature being – along with earth, wind, fire and water – one of the essential elements of life. There is also joy, plain and simple joy, in being told a fascinating story with clear characters, tension and outcomes. The fact that much of the story is narrated by one of the few gods that still cares about humans makes it even more poignant. Somebody really is listening. Maybe.

It’s so heartening to revisit a beloved work and find it not only as good as you remembered but maybe even better. Oh, Weightless, to paraphrase you: your heart and your bones, your heart is my home.

The Kilbanes’ Weightless continues through May 12 at ACT’s The Strand, 1127 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$65. Call 415-749-2228 or visit

Floating on air in rock musical Weightless

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The Kilbanes’ new rock opera Weightless includes performers (from left) Dan Moses on keyboards, Kate Kilbane on bass and vocals as Procne and actor Julia Brothers as God in its world premiere at Z Space. Below: Kilbane as Procne sings with her sister, Philomela, played by Lila Blue. Photos by Julie Schuchard

When I shuffle off this mortal coil, I’m pretty certain my ideal afterlife will be an ongoing concert by The Kilbanes, and if I’m worthy, God will welcome me to that concert venue in the form of Julia Brothers.

I hope that particular shuffle is many years away, but I got a taste of that heavenly vision at Z Space in the form of Weightless, a world-premiere rock opera by The Kilbanes inspired by a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and featuring Brothers in the role of a Bowie-esque androgynous God.

Like Once and Passing Strange and the Bengson’s Hundred Days (also born at Z Space – read more here), Weightless fuses the energy of a rock concert with the storytelling of theater. Emotions run high in this story of sisters Procne and Philomela who are so close they practically share breath and bones (as they sing in a closely, beautifully harmonized song). Their first challenge comes when their father wants to marry Procne off to a halfwit, so they escape and find their own paradise. But no paradise can last, and a man, Tereus, comes between them and terrible things happen.

In this version of the story, adapted by Dan Moses and Kate Kilbane, the horrible things aren’t quite as godawful as they are in Ovid (the cannibalism, for instance, is absent), but they’re still pretty bad, and they (surprise surprise) fit right into our collective #MeToo moment. A man exerts his power to silence a woman. A woman summons her own power and fights back. In this version, God (who also serves as our narrator) intervenes to give us an ending that, like in Ovid, allows conflict, violence, pain and suffering to create beauty. In the story, that beauty involves music, so how perfect, then, that this entire 75-minute musical is also spectacularly beautiful.

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The beauty comes from many places, not the least of which is the divine songs by the Kilbanes and performed by a band that also includes Dan Harris on drums and Josh Pollock on guitar. Kilbane plays bass and also handles lead vocals as Procne. The extraordinary Lila Blue (all of 17 years old) lends her exquisitely expressive voice to Philomela, and her vocal mix with Kilbane is otherworldly. Pollock also performs (and is quite the scene stealer) as Tereus, the man who destroys the sisters’ paradise and then suffers the consequences of his abuse of power.

The flexible Z Space auditorium, has been reconfigured so that the stage, with a long ramp, is central, with bleacher seating on either side and a bar conveniently tucked into the premium seats directly facing the stage. It’s a nightclub/theater set-up that works well (especially for the rotating roster of opening acts, who perform in the hour before the show – definitely worth showing up for). The stage looks like it’s ready for a rock concert, with intriguing pod-like structures behind the band (Angrette McCloskey designed the set). Those pods, along with the ramp extending down from the stage catch the lights (by Ray Oppenheimier) and especially the projections (by Hanna S. Kim) to give the stage texture and underscore the emotions of the story with some striking visuals.

Weightless, directed with a firm and perhaps magical hand by Becca Wolff, is so completely absorbing that it’s easy to get lost in the captivating swirl of music and story, which is guided by Brothers, who is telling the story from an omniscient point of view but also a participant in it. Her wry take on a god’s view of humanity (one of the last gods who still cares about our earth-bound drama) is an irresistible mix of bemusement and melancholy.

Even with a sad story like this one, there’s joy in the telling and, especially, in the music, which you could describe is indie-rock tinged with folk and pop and the simple beauty of two unamplified (for a brief time) voices joining in harmonic connection and sending chills through the entire theater. When a story is told with this much energy and passion, it’s easy to fall under its spell and, in the most ecstatic moments, feel a little weightless yourself.

The Kilbanes’ Weightless continues through March 18 at Z Space, 450 Florida St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$50. Call 415-626-0453 or visit