Mikhael Farah and Clayton Hamburg in Music Theatre of Madison's Hostage Song
Being held captive in a foreign land could dramatically change the one's definition of normalcy and make escape the most immediate goal. So it makes sense, at least somewhat, when the characters in the Music Theatre of Madison production of Hostage Song (through Feb. 1 at the Frequency) break into song. A pair of kidnapping victims, as well as their families, use driving rock songs and other sonic remedies to maintain their sanity in a strange and scary world.
The play begins with U.S. military contractor Jim (Mikhael Farah) and journalist Jennifer (Katie Davis) being led to the stage by their foreign abductors. They are blindfolded, so they pass the time guessing what objects might be in the room and engaging in flirty role playing. Along the way, they sing about their plights. Jim is concerned about the wife and son he left at home, and Jennifer's worried about her father and her waylaid career plans.
The accompanying live band works to the advantage of Hostage Song's driving soundtrack, whose highlights include "Jenny Baby, Don't You Cry" and "Never Say Die." Frontman Clayton Hamburg's reedy voice blends well with the richer tones of Davis and Farah. All the singing performances are solid, with Davis leading the pack. The captives manage to get into the showmanship of their solos so much that it's a wonder they don't fall off the front of the stage. This is a compliment as well as a criticism: The performers and the audience could really use more space to move around. The musical's midsection drags a bit, too, but that's a minor quibble.
Farah portrays Jim as a hapless but lovable lug who seems to always say the wrong thing with the right intentions. Where he and Jennifer find solace in song and each other, his wife (Dana Pellebon) and child (Hamburg, pulling double duty) cope with Jim's fate and their fading memory of him by reframing the grainy footage of his captivity. For instance, Pellebon's character sees in the low-def lighting and poor planning of Jim's hostage video the happier times of home movies past.
The song "Safe" comes as close to an overt political commentary as anything in Hostage Song, with Jennifer singing, "We live in a tight little bubble/We try our best to stay out of trouble/So we turn our heads." Blindfolds, grainy videos that can be stopped with a click, masks and songs in particular help keep these hostages sane, but do so by ignoring the painful, surreal situation that's taken over their lives.