Jason Webley & Friends Present ‘Margaret’ – Moore Theatre, Seattle, WA 12/12/14 (SHOW REVIEW)

When’s the last time you went to an evening of music headlined by an accordion player and based on the adventures of a man named Chicken – and then laughed uproariously, loved the music, and cried over the life story of someone you’ve never met?

If you’re like this author, the above sentence seems completely disconnected from reality. If it intrigues you, get thee to one of the incredible shows happening this week or next on the west coast.

margaretposterHe comes across a scrapbook, discarded with the contents of a house, that lays out the life of a woman named Margaret Rucker, from Everett, Washington. That man, Chicken John, proceeds to put on a show, at which a variety of musicians interpret the images and newspaper clippings. At the end of the show, the book is disassembled by those present and its contents distributed across the audience.

Chicken, happily, had the foresight to scan the contents of the scrapbook before its dismemberment, and some time thereafter, upon learning that his friend, accordion player extraordinaire Jason Webley, is from Everett, he shares the story of the scrapbook.

The story thus returns to Everett, with Webley fascinated by the rather sad life story of this woman. He does the requisite research and can discover little about her life, much less anyone who knew her. While sharing too much of the story would be a bit of a show spoiler, suffice to say it was full of tragedy while still capturing some of the essential challenges of being human.

In early 2014, Webley assembled a cast of friends – all of them great musicians – to create an evening of music inspired by the life of Margaret Rucker. The resulting work led to a Kickstarter campaign (the second largest music-related Kickstarter in WA to date, as Webley proudly proclaimed at the show), which in turn led to a hardbound book (featuring the scanned images and news clippings of Ms. Rucker’s life) and CD.

Now to the show… this reviewer went into the show knowing nothing of the story, attending on the recommendation of a good friend. It opened with a few entertaining songs from Webley’s usual solo accordion act – which were good, if not earth shattering. Exiting the stage only to immediately return, he introduced the story of Margaret Rucker before handing it off to none other than Chicken John to carry onward.

For over two and a half hours, songs were interspersed with the spoken story, exploring Margaret’s life as captured through the clippings and accompanying images. The music was powerful, beautiful, and nearly always just right for the emotional tenor of that aspect of the story (with one caveat: Eliza Rickman, who had an absolutely gorgeous voice and played tremendous music, threw the vibe by using her time on stage for a little too much self promotion. Note to artists everywhere: if you’re good [which she very much is], you needn’t announce that you’re selling merch. People expect it, and you’ll sell it, so stick to being awesome).

Now to the part about crying, and why it was such a powerful show in the whole: Margaret Rucker’s life was in many ways unremarkable. Indeed, arguably the only remarkable part was that someone – or ultimately, rather, a group of very talented someones – found her discarded story and used it as the foundation for powerful storytelling, amazing artistic expression, and an exploration of the human condition: the loneliness that is omnipresent in being aware of one’s own mortality. The resulting event is a musical exploration of the fact that everyone’s life is worthy of being acknowledged, worthy of being remembered, even if only for a moment.

This author cannot remember another artistic adventure in recent times with such power. It prompted this author and his five companies to head out much later than is advisable with a small baby in the house, solely because the show left us needing to discuss it, discuss why Margaret is so powerful, discuss what it is to be human. If at all possible, do yourself a favor and get to this show. A handful of dates/locations can be found at http://www.jasonwebley.com/ though it’s a shame there aren’t many, many more.


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