this is not your average musical
Electronic musician Klein is screwing up stereotypes, one Disney Princess at a time.
Care by Klein at the ICA. Photography Marili Andre.
Klein’s tired. She played Berghain at 1am last night, jumped on a plane back to London at 8am this morning, and has spent all day reminding 15 kids with no acting experience the right direction to waltz around a human tree, for a Disney-inspired musical. She considers a tea, then asks for a pint.
Musicals aren’t really the kind of thing you’d expect from an experimental musician known for distorted, glitchy, unmelodic tracks. “Musicals are cheesy,” Klein confirms. The producer is the opposite of cheesy: she’s got fans in Arca and Dev Hynes, is signed to London electronic label Hyperdub, and courts the unconventional approach: “I use a dictaphone and chop it up on Audacity,” Klein told i-D when she graced our Class of 2017. But here we are, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts at 8pm on a Thursday night, Guinness in hand, discussing her upcoming show Care and a mutual appreciation for Andrew Lloyd Webber. The piece is part of an ongoing project by the ICA, which gives young artists free rein to stage a work of their own creation (last year they commissioned an opera from Dean Blunt and Mica Levi). And this is how Klein found herself writing, casting, directing, soundtracking, acting in and overseeing a musical. “I love musicals,” Klein says. “They're my guilty pleasure. But how can I do a musical that doesn't feel cheesy?”
On paper it may sound like she failed. Care follows a bunch of unruly kids with strict foster parents, who are then thrust through a Narnia-esque door and concrete wall of dry ice, before losing themselves in a Snow White forest and setting out on a quest to find the Lost Boys. But in practice, it’s the opposite. Under the 18th century princess dresses are Converse and fresh Nikes. The cast is very diverse. The dialogue is minimal, except for pressing questions like, “What’s your definitive top 5 ranking of EastEnders deaths?”
But the main way Care defies the archetypal musical is in its soundscape. There are no perfect harmonies, no platitudes spouted in soprano, no doo-wopping in perfect unison as Sandy and Danny fly off into the distance in a 1948 Ford convertible. Instead, it’s signature Klein -- warped, eerie and unpredictable. There are long pauses and looped samples. There are two people laughing for a really, really, uncomfortably long time. There are girls singing in different languages, kind of in time, but also not really.
The show’s diversity is just another welcome example of Klein screwing with stereotypes. “I've always liked Disney,” she says of her choice to transform the some of the cast into a bunch of Disney-esque princesses. ‘Esque’ because she’s not out here championing predominantly white, thin women dependent on square-jawed Prince Charmings to whisk them away from from eternal slumber. Instead, she called on friends and fellow music makers to fill the glass sneakers. “We have such a diverse cast of Disney Princesses that wouldn't normally play them -- whatever background they're from has no impact on them having this role,” Klein says. “It's more representative of what London's like. If you're going to have a cast of only Caucasian people -- that doesn't exist in the real world. That's not real life.”
Unsurprisingly, the hardest part is finding time to herself -- especially given her self-proclaimed “control freak” tendencies, born of her own high standards. “I just put way to much pressure on myself. I need to chill. But in my head, it's just not Andrew Lloyd Webber!”
And sure, it’s not. When showtime arrives four days later, it’s not the seasoned performance of the West End blockbusters. None of the cast have acted before, which sees some occasionally hesitant performances and some unpolished transitions. There’s the odd pause that probably lasts a little bit longer than planned, and the stage design is sparse. But it’s ok, because the whole point is that it’s not Andrew Lloyd Webber. The point isn’t to make another identikit show of swelling key changes and slicked quiffs. It’s to push back against the status quo, to open minds to a different kind of musical. And in that, Care succeeds. Perhaps now Klein can get some of that well-deserved rest. “After this beer,” she concludes, “I'll be on the ginger tea.”