Anybody concerned that Circle X's new musical about America's most notorious prisoner-torture atrocity was going to be some sort of Abu Ghraib: The Musical! can rest easy; Bad Apples is a thoughtful, penetrating and theatrically thrilling meditation on the all-too-human dimensions of what Hannah Arendt famously called the banality of evil.
No mere docu-musical, playwright Jim Leonard's nonlinear book is more a palimpsest of the newspaper headlines in which real names and relationships have been freely overwritten, not to protect the innocent but to drive home the point that, when it comes to the psychodynamics of unchecked power and authority, nobody is innocent.
James Black gives a powerful performance as the seductively charismatic military prison guard who draws both an uneducated subordinate (an outstanding Kate Morgan Chadwick) and his immediate superior (the fine Meghan McDonough) first into a sadomasochistic menage a trois and then into scandal and criminal disgrace. Director John Langs' electrifying cabaret staging (on Francois-Pierre Couture's stylish tier-block set) and Cassandra Daurden's dynamic choreography make the three-hour show fly.
The evening's real star however, may be the supremely accomplished rock score by composer-lyricists Rob Cairns and Beth Thornley. It is their tortured torch songs, hip-hop metal arias and soaring love ballads whose wit, poetry and memorable pop hooks elevate the grotesquely abhorrent into the profoundly universal.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Oct. 13. Continues through Dec. 1, 2012
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.