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Live Review: The Musical Box at Arcada Theatre

| April 10, 2019

Denis Gagné (photo from Facebook)



The Musical Box

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Arcada Theatre, St. Charles

If you’ve ever wondered what traveling back in time would feel like, you would only have to go as far as the Arcada Theatre on the evening that The Musical Box and their current show, entitled A Genesis Extravaganza, arrived there. This French-Canadian group hailing from Montreal, Quebec has been delighting audiences internationally with its remarkably stunning recreation of early Genesis since their inception in 1993.

The Musical Box performance at the Arcada Theatre was no exception. When progressive rock fans consider “early Genesis,” that consideration to many is synonymous with renaissance man and founding member Peter Gabriel. Cast as the current Gabriel is Denis Gagné, who not only had all of the nuances and signature vocal timbre of Gabriel, but physically channeled Gabriel’s stage persona, mime moves, and dialogue. The other members of The Musical Box who equally dazzled the audience with their virtuosity included guitarist François Gagnon (Steve Hackett), bassist Sébastien Lamothe (Mike Rutherford), keyboardist Ian Benhamou (Tony Banks), and drummer Bob St-Laurent (Phil Collins).

I have seen The Musical Box a handful of times over the years, where they have recreated an entire Genesis concert precisely as Genesis did in the early to mid-70s. Whether it was the recreation of seminal albums Foxtrot, Selling England By The Pound, or the ground-breaking The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, the band was consistently astonishing every time––with not only spot-on musicians performing impeccably––but with identical lighting, sound, sets, and costumes as the original shows. That’s right, costumes. Generally, any band in the 70s that would present themselves with any degree of ‘costume,’ whether it be the front man or the entire band, would be so inclined due to their lack of musicianship, where the costumes were more for attention-grabbing than as an addendum to their storytelling. In defense of the latter, Gabriel, who studied mime in England, had quite the theatrical streak in him. As Genesis grew, so did his stage wardrobe, from the simple beginnings of a ‘flower’ (Supper’s Ready) and ‘bat wings’ (Watcher Of The Skies) to a Puerto Rican New York street kid in leather jacket and jeans (the character “Rael”) and the grotesque “Slipperman” from The Lamb.

Photo: Steven Kikoen

The concert at Arcada was, surprisingly, almost entirely without costumes. That is due to their current theme of “A Genesis Extravaganza” that is coinciding with a double milestone: The 50th anniversary of Genesis and the 25th anniversary of The Musical Box. The group pays tribute to a broader spectrum of the Genesis catalog than ever before, from their first effort From Genesis To Revelation (1969) to Wind & Wuthering (1976). The stagewear of choice for the entire show for our Gabriel/Gagné character was a subdued version of a jogging suit – white tee, black pants, and period-centric velvet rock wear.

After the traditional welcome to the audience from impresario Ron Onesti, the show began with a quote displayed on the giant video wall behind the elaborate set. The citation read “I think people just underestimated our contribution” Phil Collins, Melody Maker, 1976. This statement, of course, referred to the public’s assumption that Genesis sans Gabriel would be a disaster waiting to happen. Of course, history proved the public wrong.

The evening was divided into three Acts. Act I, entitled “The Wind’s Tail,” was a selection of highlights from the albums A Trick Of The Tail and Wind & Wuthering. During this opening, Gagné displayed his prowess on several instruments, gaining even more respect from the audience of musicians and non-musicians alike.

Act II was entitled “Broadway Melodies,” and was a truncated version of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Again, you could hear several gasps from the audience as the band replicated not only this note-for-note masterpiece in its abridged form but the whole vibe of this famed rock opera. The Musical Box is the only tribute band, to my knowledge, given private access to the Genesis archive. Both the Genesis camp and the Peter Gabriel camp have acknowledged The Musical Box as their ‘heir apparent’ and have given the group every one of their 1200 slides that accompanied the original Lamb Lies Down On Broadway show. And it showed. Time and time again the audience was completely stunned by their experience.

Act III, entitled “Before The Ordeal,” consisted of songs from Genesis’ earliest incarnation to Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, and Selling England By The Pound. Highlights were hearing songs that even Genesis rarely ever performed, such as “Time Table” and Can-Utility and the Coastliners.” The longtime staples of Firth Of Fifth” and Cinema Show were so meticulously authentic that I witnessed grown men becoming quite emotional. After an almost deafening request from the audience for an encore, the group came back to perform their namesake, “The Musical Box.” The big surprise was during the climactic ending section of this epic eleven-minute plus masterpiece when Gagné emerged with not the old man mask made famous by Gabriel, but the extremely rare “red dress and foxes head.” Genesis aficionados went ballistic. Gabriel touted the fox head and red dress during a performance at a former boxing arena in Italy in 1971 without telling the rest of the band about the radical costume in fear that they would veto the idea. When Gabriel came out at the end of The Musical Box, he could easily see the complete look of horror on the faces of his bandmates. But when Gabriel’s outlandish appearance made the cover of the English music newspaper NME (New Musical Express), the Genesis boys had a different take on what was then a brilliant marketing move by Gabriel. Gagné and The Musical Box replicated this famed entrance so accurately as to incorporate the horrified looks from the other members, identical to what had happened all those years ago in Italy.

Bravo Musical Box, everyone’s disbelief was willingly suspended; the time travel worked.

 – Steven Kikoen


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