A gorgeous woman in a red dress sits upon the stage and sings to her mirrored reflection, "you are a beautiful fool." Consumed with preserving the perfection of her image, Sophia Dante (played by Michelle Jasso) has sacrificed all else. Her sin? Vanity. In the great lexicon of measurable sins and virtues, vanity is only a venal sin, a transgression of only earthly proportions with only human consequences. So do not fear, oh lovers of glittery eye shadow, vanity will not earn you a place in Hell. But lust could. As well as sloth, wrath and gluttony.
These Hell-worthy sins and the inevitable pleasure they provide are represented by the characters in the upcoming world premiere of "Seven Deadly Pleasures, A Cabaret Rock Opera." It is a story of human character and the tension between that which entices and that which destroys. Though few in our modern world risk excommunication, the consequences of disconnection due to excess still affect us all. Sophia, as a vain character, invites our condemnation but the show itself and the aching minor chords lilting through her song evokes our compassion. For beneath these red red lips and smooth skin lies a human being tormented by a fear of being loved only for her physical beauty.
The opera is a creation from notable classical pianist and composer Allison Lovejoy who when not caressing the keys in honor of Verdi and Beethoven, has delved into the delightfully saucy style of the cabaret. "The Seven Deadly Pleasures" is an ode to both expressions, and through its many years of workshop incarnations, has been forged by sweat, whiskey, and the consummate artistry of a diverse group of collaborators.
Ultimately, however, the show is an ode to the fact that though we all have moments of transcendence and occasionally are touched by grace, we are mostly mired in our, sometimes glorious and always thoroughly murky, humanness.
I spoke with Lovejoy about her inspiration for the show, her excitement about collaborating with director and DIVAfest founding member Margery Fairchild, and Sin.
SF Weekly: What was the inspiration for the Seven Deadly Pleasures?
Allison: My roommate (Geoff Ball) and I were having a late-night conversation some songs we were writing about the Seven Deadly Sins, and we decided to collaborate. We discussed the fact that these Sins must be Pleasures in some way, otherwise people wouldn't engage in them.
SF Weekly: Considering your classical musical background what was the excitement for you in creating a Cabaret Rock Opera?
Allison: Telling a story. This is something I can do in Classical performance, but it is often telling a story created by someone else. In this show, I had an opportunity to build the characters and scenarios and have them reflect some of the struggles and pleasures relevant to our lives now. It has also been a joy to explore a wider range of musical styles. Different musical styles represent each character and their respective "sin". The Devil gets to sing both cabaret and opera, while the younger leads have a more "rock" opera sound. The emotion, character, and story determine the music. That's why we have jazz and classical influences, as well as some blues, pop and theatre styles intermingled in this show.
SF Weekly: You come from a Catholic Polish background, how has this affected your ideas of what is Sin? Virtue?
Allison: As a young girl, I attended church and catechism and actually thought the church was a beautiful place, aesthetically.
Often I would go to confession, and thought that quite embarrassing and ridiculous, especially when the priest asked me to repeat myself when my own sins became quite interesting. The priest before him had disappeared suddenly with the entire Church treasury, which I found shocking, and somewhat amusing. It reminded me that we all have the capacity for good and evil actions.
The biggest doubts and questions came to mind when I saw "good Catholics" behaving cruelly. I still believe in the underlying Catholic concept that "sin" is the opposite of love, and "virtue "creates happiness.
My explorations of Buddhist philosophy and practice have reminded me that compassion is essential, so judgement of others is also a negative action, or a "sin", if you need to give it a title.
SF Weekly: Though this is the world premier, the "Seven Deadly Pleasures" has been "workshopped" before in various different incarnations. What is distinctive about this incarnation?
Allison: It's a fully staged production, with wonderfully creative direction by Margery Fairchild. Margery and the talented cast of actors are able to create believable characters and scenarios that I have imagined, but haven't had the opportunity to see manifested in the past. Costumes by Sarah Moss and excellent lighting design by Valerie Clear also help create the sense of another reality, which, in my opinion, creates a real "show." I've also had a great arranger, Greg Stephens, working with me on writing parts for the musical ensemble, which sounds fabulous.
SF Weekly: What has been one the most surprising/ delightful/ miraculous experiencing of putting this show together?
Allison: Feeling the real soul of the piece come to life. At times, I find the rehearsals so entertaining and moving, that I almost forget I have to keep playing piano.The emotional reactions of the cast and director during powerful scenes, and the laughter and connections amongst the cast truly magical to witness. It's such an honor to have this wonderful team bring the show and music to this level. A show that is also deliciously scandalous.
"The Seven Deadly Pleasures, A Cabaret Rock Opera" plays April 23-26 at 8 p.m. and April 27 at 4 p.m. at The Costume Shop at ACT (1117 Market). Tickets and more information at goathall.org.