After the re-enactment of the American Civil War with ping-pong balls, but before the communal inhalation of helium gas; before the staging of The Mikado set on Mars but quite a while after a journalist (not this one, thank goodness) was brought on stage to perform an interpretive dance, Taylor Mac, dressed in an outfit made of hot dogs, confided to the audience: “You may have noticed, this isn’t a regular concert.”
Well, duh, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music is anything but a regular concert. It is an orgiastic performance-art drag show concert ritual happening that feels, at times, like an epic house party; at other times it is like a bizarre social experiment that has gone thrillingly off the rails. And if that description sounds unwieldy and hyperbolic, it is entirely appropriate.
Over its 24-hour run time, the show tells a history of the US, from 1776 to 2016, through the evolution of popular music — 246 songs from Stephen Foster to Stevie Wonder, Martha Hill to Lauryn Hill, Amazing Grace to Stayin’ Alive, minstrel tunes to musical theatre and Motown — with Mac as the rambunctious narrator-interrogator. It is a show that takes “audience participation” to ridiculous extremes, from blindfolded games of musical chairs to, as one critic noted, “possibly simulated sex”.
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