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Michael Scholar and Rachael Johnston in "Hard Core Logo"

2.5 out of 4 stars

We loved Hard Core Logo, the book, for its poetic, efficient brilliance: It was a sort of epistolary novel for the punk-rock era, where the story unfolded vividly through snippets of conversation, phone messages, interviews, invoices and song lyrics.

We loved Hard Core Logo, the film, for its inventiveness and verisimilitude: Director Bruce McDonald took novelist Michael Turner's concept, characters and lyrics and brought them to life in an utterly believable faux documentary with gritty concert scenes and that wild ending.

Now we have Hard Core Logo: Live - Michael J. Scholar's adaptation for the stage, which had its world premiere in Edmonton last November and is now at Vancouver's PuSh Festival. The format seems a natural for this Canadian classic, in which the drama of the story is complemented with live concert segments, so that the audience also plays the audience.

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Scholar wisely draws from both the film and the book, without attempting to imitate the experience of either (the film, in particular). The play never reaches the artistic heights of either of its predecessors, but it's entertaining enough that the comparisons end pretty quickly.

The show opens with a mockumentary (an homage to McDonald?): a Hinterland Who's Who takeoff called Punkerland Who's Who documenting an endangered species: the Vancouver Punk. Played by DOA's Joe Keithley (who also wrote new arrangements for the show's songs), the Vancouver Punk is shown in his natural habitat, wearing plaid and fighting adversaries such as corrupt politicians and "crap on the radio" (for example, Bryan Adams). Fun.

Then to the story of Hard Core Logo, a long-disbanded group of 1970s punk rockers from Vancouver who have reunited years later for a benefit to raise money for their punk idol Bucky Haight, who has lost at least one leg, maybe two, in a shooting incident.

But the reunion tour is fraught. Lead singer Joe Dick (Scholar) has a love/hate relationship with lead guitarist Billy Tallent (Telly James). Tallent, meanwhile, has been playing with a big-time band in Seattle, and he's waiting to hear whether the gig will be made permanent. Bass guitarist John Oxenberger (Clinton Carew) became suicidal after the band's breakup but is now stable on medication. Drummer Pipefitter (Toby Berner) is picking up garbage for a living.

Director Bradley Moss tackles the challenge of staging the road trip with ingenuity and a winking sense of humour (bordering on too cute at times). His acid trip scene is a standout: beautiful, eerie and funny.

But the show is too long - just over two-and-a-half hours, including intermission - and could probably lose at least one musical performance. That said, the concert scenes are the best thing about Hard Core Logo: Live, injecting the show with the frenetic energy for which the subject matter calls.

Keithley's pounding arrangements are good enough so audiences won't be left pining for the familiar film versions of numbers such as Who The Hell Do You Think You Are? and Edmonton Block Heater. (By the way, you're offered earplugs at the door. I suggest you take them.)

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The actors do a fair-to-good job with their instruments, which generally works (it's punk, after all), but James is not entirely convincing as Billy Tallent, guitar virtuoso. Nor does he display much of the irresistible stage presence the role requires. Billy is supposed to be hovering on the edge of rock stardom, after all.

Scholar is clearly having fun at the microphone, but beyond the singing, his monologues feel somewhat wooden, and the interaction between Joe and Billy fails to convey the nuances in their relationship that are clearly supposed to be there.

Carew delivers a scene-stealing performance as the gentle, pensive and increasingly unstable Oxenberger. Berner provides some good laughs as Pipefitter - less hoser than the character in the film and a little crazier. And kudos to Rachael Johnston who plays countless roles and was a hoot in most of them - especially Bucky.

The show is utterly Canadian, with references to everything from Degrassi to Guy Lafleur. There's even a collision involving a moose.

Unlike the book and film from which it is adapted, Hard Core Logo: Live is not great art. It's the kind of experience that might prompt you to throw a beer can at the stage (as several did on opening night) rather than inspire deep reflection. This may not be such a bad thing. Rock on.

Hard Core Logo: Live

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  • Produced by November Theatre, Theatre Network and Touchstone Theatre and presented by the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival
  • At the Rickshaw Theatre in Vancouver on Thursday

Hard Core Logo: Live at the Rickshaw Theatre runs in Vancouver until Feb. 6 ( pushfestival.ca).

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