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Jesse James Rice stars as Billy The Kid in Libby Larsen's "BILLY THE KID AND WHAT HE DID" (Two performances only -- this Friday and Saturday at Highways Performance Space in Sta. Monica)


8:30 p.m. this Friday & Saturday only! (Nov. 19 & 20, 2010)
Highways Performance Space
18th St Arts Complex
1651 18th St, Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 315-1459

A new work by Philip Littell and composer Libby Larsen, BILLY THE KID AND WHAT HE DID is a play with songs, staged by Littell, joined on stage by Jesse James Rice and Glen Martin, who also provides the musical acccompaniment.

The collaboration between Littell and Minneapolis-based Larsen began with their opera Every Man Jack for the Sonoma City Opera and has continued through a variety of other works over the years. When Larsen bounced the Billy the Kid ball at Littell he decided it would be exciting to play with and the result is this stripped-down play freighted with songs.

Ms Larsen, who is one of the pre-eminent composers of modern American music (the recipient this year, alongside James Levine, of the George Peabody prize) leaped at the chance to write in the folk and cowboy and rock and punk veins and for a single player (although it has to be said Glen Martin is not limited to a single instrument). Both Larsen and Littell agreed immediately to a strict economy of means in this exploration of Billy The Kid’s... well, what is it? History, legend, myth, persona? All bunkum by this time. Little is known, much is tediously conjectured. To put it plainly, a hell of a lot of people have made of Billy what they would, and what they wanted.

And that IS his story. That’s also the story of a great many young American men to this day. And the people most concerned with making them what they become are old American men. Still. We know our Pat Garretts. Old men who need young men to do their dirty work, to commit their crimes, to settle their scores, to do their killing, and, most particularly, their dying. This last is of particular urgency to old men it would seem. It would even seem to be a kind of pleasure. From Garrett to Gacy to iraq and Afghanistan are not big leaps.

Billy had a voice. A few statements in his own words remain.

Larsen and Littell have tried to listen. They think he’s still talking.

LIBBY LARSEN, composer
Libby Larsen (born December 24, 1950, Wilmington, Delaware) is a prolific American composer of contemporary classical music who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She grew up in Minnesota and completed undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. In 1973, she became one of the founding members of the Minnesota Composers Forum, later renamed the American Composers Forum.

Libby Larsen is a composer committed to the idea of writing modern music that is accessible to a broad audience. She is also one of a handful of composers in our time who makes her living solely on her compositional work, and although she earned a doctorate in composition, she does not hold a university teaching position. She is one of the most frequently commissioned American composers, and is in great demand as a speaker.

As her doctoral dissertation, Larsen composed Words Upon the Windowpane, a one-act opera based on a play of the same title by W. B. Yeats. It premiered at the University of Minnesota on June 1, 1977 under Vern Sutton, then director of the University's Opera Workshop. Later works include The Silver Fox (1979), Tumbledown Dick (1980), Clair de Lune (1984), Christina Romana, the opera Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus (1990), A Wrinkle in Time (1992), and Every Man Jack (2006). Larsen has written a piece entitled Bach 358 as a commissioned work for the Barlow Bradford Musical endownment at Brigham Young University. Most recently, Larsen adapted William Inge's play Picnic into a three-act opera that premiered in Aycock Auditorium at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, on Thursday, April 2, 2009, starring students, staff, and alumni of the university. She is a 2010 recipient (with James Levine) of the George Peabody Prize given by the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins.

GLEN MARTIN, musician, performer
Glem Martin, from Iron Mountain, Michigan, is a singer-songwriter who makes friends wherever he goes. He’s been in LA two years. The House of Blues and The Viper Room are always happy to have him play. He is a graduate of the McNally College of Music which doesn’t begin to explain him. Mr Littell and Ms Larsen are lucky to have him.

Jesse James Rice grew up in and left Port Townsend, Washington. He was mostly recently seen by LA audiences as one of the leads in the musical The Bedroom Window at the Odyssey Theater, and in Alexandro Segada’s replicant sci-fi passion play “other boys and other stories” in the New Works Festival at Redcat. The LA weekly gave Dog Sees God, in which he played the Schroeder-like Beethoven, an enthusiastic GO this year. He is in Mario Amadeu’s film The Last Act and is often seen on the web in the evil and popular webseries High Fashion as the emotionally unstable artist “Davy”. He writes, and directs his own short films, plays guitar and piano and, of course, composes and sings. He is a monster at improv (Littell’s note).

PHILIP LITTELL, writer, director, performer
Philip Littell has had a long association with Highways, notably with Songs Of The Closet, a reclamation of the songs gay men adopted as their own from the turn of the last century to the last gasp of the sixties, and as director of James Carroll Pickett’s legendary spectacle, Queen of Angels. Los Angeles audiences first encountered him as one third of the Weba Show and then followed him and his bands and his brand of “cabarock” (don’t hate: autre temps, autres moeurs) around the nightclubs and rock venues of the city. Investigative musicals and revues were next, starting with the wild Kiss The Glass and culminating in the even wilder The Wandering Whore (with composer Eliot Douglass). All this activity led to an unexpected career as an opera librettist and supplier of texts for modern American composers: The Dangerous Liaisons, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Dreamers, Every Man Jack, and even the Disney Millenium Symphonies for the New York Philharmonic (for composer Michael Torke), and many others. Littell has continued to act in whatever looks impossible or interesting (memorably, ALL the parts, in a mix of French and English in Stravinsky’s Histoire d’un Soldat for director Christopher Alden and the late lamented Eos Orchestra in New York, and the American premiere of Pascal Dusapin’s To Be Sung on a text by Gertrude Stein for the Opera Francais de New York, stuff like that). Littell works in film (Pretty Ugly People, Conversations With Other Women and the upcoming Everyone Who Hears This Story Gets Laid) and is writing a series of historical travesty plays.
11.15.10 by OC