Every performance by "Awesome" is a gentleman's agreement between musical theater and rock show. Their theater shows don't have plots so much as moods, and tend toward brooding impressionism: Delaware, performed in a bar, was about mermaids, waffles, and loss. noSIGNAL, performed at On the Boards, was an extended metaphor about bees, drones, and day jobs. Their bar shows are lighter, more mercurial and intimate—all seven band members are deeply funny, and watching them surprise each other is half the fun.
The gentlemen's agreement in the "Awesome" Cycle, in ACT's downstairs cabaret room, is more ambiguous than usual. Four different shows performed over four weekends, the Cycle is throw-it-at-the-wall exercise, mixing old material with new. It feels like it could go off the rails at any moment (and it occasionally does). Last weekend's show was a riff on the marriage-by-abduction frontier musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. (Future shows will be about astrophysics, the results of the presidential election, and "the death of indie rock" with a coffin made of dental X-rays.) The septet dressed in plaid and suspenders, sang show tunes, used axes and stumps for percussion, discussed the plot ("Uh, that sounds like rape"), and didn't try to replicate the big dance sequence, but synchronized one of their old songs to the film choreography projected on a screen behind them.
Like many "Awesome" projects, Seven Brides teetered on the edge of preciousness without actually falling over. "Awesome" is always watching itself, but always with a smirk. In one bit, the band summoned Allison Narver from the audience to give them some director's notes (she's directing a big-budget production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the 5th Avenue next month). She suggested improv exercises. "I love improv," drummer Kirk Anderson replied. "I don't love watching it, but I love doing it!" That empathy for (and awareness of) the audience is the root appeal of "Awesome." And it's all too rare in theater.