Yes, Message In A Bottle is entertaining. But it’s also shattering.

Without uttering a single word, the cast moves along a disturbing and all-too-real narrative through whole-body-movement, body language and simple but essential sets. Even without the music of Sting, you would understand what was going on. But Sting’s music, in some new arrangements, provides the auditory emotion that augments what the audience is seeing. And, like so many productions that take familiar music out of its usual setting, we end up interpreting these tunes in new ways (examples include Mama Mia! and Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist).

The costumes help tell the arc of the story too. Vibrant reds, warm browns and cool blues combine in layered outfits on the residents of an imagined village of happy, busy people. But as life takes a terrible turn when the village comes under surprise attack, costumes are in earthen shades. A refugee camp with guards and barbed wire brings grey, shapeless garb. When there is hope again, especially in one scene, long, green flowing skirts introduce color into life again.

A scene from Message In A Bottle by Lynn Theisen.
When village life was happy in Message In A Bottle, it was colorful and full of happy energy. Photo by Lynn Theisen.

The dancing in Message In A Bottle is stunning and literally amazing. Performing in modern, ballet, hip-hop, street and swing styles, the dancers make some movements seem impossibly airy and light. But, through wrenching, jolting, non-flowing movements, they exhibit all of the fear, anger and resentment the storyline requires.

 

I’d love to call out specific dancers but the program doesn’t show headshots nor give character names. So, I can’t tell you who was who but, while all of the dancers were excellent, a few stood out for their incredible flexibility, abilities, and grace, especially the woman who places the young bride.

People dancing in long green skirts in Message In A Bottle by Lynn Theisen.
In a later scene, more beautiful than the hues of this photo show, long, flowing green skirts give a feeling of hope. Photo by Lynn Theisen.

Standout scenes include one with all of the refugees on a raft in a tumultuous sea. Working as one, undulating unit, and assisted by graphics behind on the screen, you see and feel the raft being lifted and dropped over rolling waves. Another is the scene referred to above where the daughter finds herself among a group of (green-skirt-wearing) people who want to take her in, provide shelter, love and a new beginning. It’s visually beautiful but we see the girl’s conflicts between her past trauma and her desire to be among family again.

On opening night, when we attended, that disturbing storyline got interrupted twice by audio issues. The first happened during a very early, happy scene. Both the understanding audience and professional performers rebounded easily, starting the scene from the top like the pros they are. The second hiccup came before the second act could start which inspired some people to head back out to the lobby for another drink or, unfortunately, to just leave. The latter was a big mistake on their part because, although the first half of Message In A Bottle had been a frightening gut punch, that was not the tone of the entire show. The second half gave more optimism but, thankfully, didn’t wrap things up in a sunny, shiny bow.

Performers in dark clothing and dramatic lighting in Message In A Bottle. Photo by Lynn Theisen.
Although simple and stark, costuming and lighting set the mood in Message in a Bottle including this imposing and anxiety-producing scene. Photo by Lynn Theisen.

Message In A Bottle reminds us (not that we needed to be reminded), that there are innocent people being terrorized and displaced every day, around the world. We only have to turn on the TV, look at our news feeds, or around our own neighborhoods to see that. So that makes the timing of the show very relevant and very raw. It’s not about an imagined scenario. It looks real, sounds real and feels real as we mentally superimpose news bites over the actions of the performers on stage. It’s hard to watch, frightening and sad. But it’s also uplifting and emphasizes the power of love of all kinds. See it as much because you’ll want to as because you need to.

Dramatic athleticism in Message in a Bottle.
Yes, you’ll see amazing athleticism from dancers throughout the production. Photo by Lynn Theisen.

Message In A Bottle is directed and choreographed by Olivier Award nominee, Kate Prince. It is both inspired by and set to some of 17-time Grammy Award-winning artist Sting’s songs, including “Fields of Gold,” “Fragile,” “Englishman in New York,” “Roxanne,” and “Spirits In The Material World.” It runs Feb. 13-25, 2024 at the Buell Theatre. For more information and to purchase legitimate tickets, visit the website, here.

-By Courtney Drake-McDonough, Publisher and Managing Editor, In Good Taste Denver

BONUS: The In Good Taste Denver team enthusiastically encourages you to visit Dazzle Jazz before and/or after the show (and any other time you can including for their every Friday Lunch Bunch). Dazzle has been bringing the best of local and international jazz to Denver since 1997 and just recently opened their new, beautiful space right there at the corner of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. 

 

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