“Up From The Stacks” is musical theater, but like no other performance that you may have seen.
The show, which originally appeared in 2011 in New York and had its West Coast premiere February 23 at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, tells the story of college student Lincoln Cabinée, who has a part-time job as a page at the main building of the New York Public Library. As we watch Lincoln retrieve books from the stacks below, we encounter a cast of characters populating the catalogue and reading rooms above. Given that the play is set in 1975, decades before 42nd Street was made family friendly, it all takes place against a backdrop of seedy shops and porn palaces.
The offbeat stream-of-consciousness libretto, written by cartoonist Ben Katchor and sung by his collaborator, composer Mark Mulcahy, itself renders “Up From The Stacks” unusual. But what makes the libretto stunning is the perfectly timed projection of Katchor’s colorful panels onto a huge screen hanging above and to the right of Mulcahy and his three-member band. Although there is motion in some of the scenes, it’s not quite what you would call animation.