"Who do you believe?" is the central question and the signature song of Jeff Stewart Dixon's new rock opera, "Magic Music Myth," now playing in Arlington. Do you believe the slithery Devil wearing silver leather pants and cute little horns who heartily sings to the audience, "Wake up fools and take a good look/ You're no better than a worm on the hook"? Or do you believe his adversary, the sickly sweet teenager Kristen, who unconvincingly tells him he's "a joke, a cosmic punch line." The playing field never evens; the Devil (Richard Pelzman, a local theater regular) gets all the good numbers while Kristen (newcomer Alison Mickey) barely sings a note (although she does perform a dance solo).
The three-hour show (which could stand a trim) marks the inaugural production for Dixon, a 30-year-old singer-songwriter from Montgomery County. He describes it as "a courtroom trial that takes place between God and the Devil at the end of the millennium." A few years ago Dixon, who was raised an Episcopalian, wrote a song about his own quest for spirituality. Eleven songs later, "Magic Music Myth" was born. He cites Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel and Dire Straits as musical influences, though the bombastic tunes in the show resemble outtakes of a '70s rock musical.
Part science-fiction tale, part exercise in comparative religion, the rock opera opens with Kristen mourning the loss of her explorer father. One day she mysteriously receives a book from him. When she starts to read it, she slips through a rabbit hole into the future and becomes the chief lawyer for God's defense. Representatives from a variety of world religions are her witnesses. They sing about their faith and try to convert the Devil's cronies, who dress like aspiring Pat Benatars. The cronies spend most of the show fending off the advances and writhing on the floor when the Devil grabs the microphone to sing his side of the story.
Dixon estimates "Magic Music Myth," has cost more than $100,000. He hired a cast of 23 and is employing more than 10 behind-the-scenes technicians. Alchemy, a five-piece band Dixon founded, sits onstage with the performers. Dixon describes the set as "a cross between the bridge of the USS Enterprise, a Pink Floyd concert and an Aztec temple." The backdrop sparkles with lights, perhaps a reminder of the heavens, and a circular screen at times projects song lyrics and an image of the Earth spinning.
"I'm not nervous about the amount of money I've spent," says Dixon, who paid his cast and crew for about a month of rehearsals leading up to the show. "I wanted their complete attention and energy and the only way you are going to get that is if you pay them a living wage."
And Dixon's just getting started. "Magic Music Myth" is the first in a trilogy--he's already started writing songs for the other two shows that deal with the Middle Ages, science and religion, and human contact with aliens.
Although the program credits a director and choreographer, Dixon obviously drives the production. Wearing a silver suit with a black T-shirt and looking a little like a young David Bowie, Dixon often occupies center stage, singing many numbers himself using three different guitars. Although he took jazz music theory and guitar lessons in college as well as voice lessons later on, this marks his first real foray into performing in front of an audience. Although he's enjoying the spotlight, he says "anyone who doesn't admit to getting nervous is lying to you."
After graduating from Syracuse University with a degree in music, television and film production, Dixon bopped around the country, eventually moving back home to start an aquarium installation business. When he started to get serious about "Magic Music Myth," he sold that business, spending hours on the phone finding musicians and actors for his show. He thinks the searching theme of his show should appeal to believers and nonbelievers alike and says the audience turnout in Arlington has been disappointing (on a recent Sunday about 30 people were in the 700-seat theater).
"If there's any one message that comes out of 'Magic Music Myth' it's that there is more to life," he says. "If you want to investigate it, great. If not, that's okay."
At the Thomas Jefferson Theater, 125 Old Glebe Rd., Arlington, through Aug. 1. For information, see the Web site www.magicmusicmyth.com
Artrain USA, an art museum on rails, will visit Union Station this weekend. The exhibit "Artistry of Space" commemorates the 30th anniversary of the walk on the moon and features 78 artworks from the collections of NASA and the National Air and Space Museum. The free exhibit is open Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Track 10 . . . Tonight at 7:15 artist Sam Gilliam talks about his perspective on the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden's permanent collection. The free talk takes place at the museum, Seventh Street and Independence Avenue SW.
CAPTION: Jeff Stewart Dixon, composer of "Magic Music Myth."