Cages Revue – The holographic rock musical is a dark dystopia


Anhedonia is a condition that renders the sufferer unable to experience pleasure. In the rock musical Cages, which mixes live performance with holograms, film and animation, it’s also the name of a gray dystopian city where the aesthetic is very Tim-Burton-meets-German-Expressionism and any display of emotion is forbidden. Lurking in the shadows is composer Wolff, who sees in Madeline, his pixie muse, the prospect of true love. Can music help them overcome their obstacles?

The most significant that Cages faces is the technology itself, which acts as its selling point. Preliminary news suggests the state-of-the-art holograms – an improvement on the days when Laurence Olivier’s floating head was projected onto the stage of the Dominion Theater for Time – will be indistinguishable from the live actors. But the discrepancy when Wolfe (played in the flesh by CJ Baran) interacts with Madeline (Alison Harvard in virtual form) is all too apparent. No wonder a love story seems bloodless when it depends on hitting and matching sight lines rather than old-fashioned chemistry and rapport. It doesn’t help that the characters communicate through silent film intertitles, with the narrator (Harwood Gordon, another hologram) doing all the talking.

Immersed in proprietary technology… Cells.
Immersed in proprietary technology… Cells.

The mass scenes shot showing the ranks of the secret police with metal cones on their heads (why?) only emphasize the sparseness of the cast of eight in person. Baran, who co-created Cages with Benjamin K. Romans, is more of a songwriter than an actor, and it shows—he lacks the physical expressiveness that could have made Wolfe more than a difficult silhouette. The most beautiful effect of the evening has virtual raindrops splashing on a real umbrella.

The music, also by Baran and Romans, is often reminiscent of 808 and Heartbreak-era Kanye West: lots of ominous synths, vocoder and introspection. Madeline’s refrain, Somebody’s Somebody, is a faint echo of Vanessa Williams’ Save the Best for Last, while a singing moon with a human face conjures up memories of The Mighty Boosh. The only true pop anthem (Love Song) arrives too late to save a heavy second act, during which the audience will learn exactly what it feels like to have anhedonia.



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