The fifth annual performance of Cirque du Horror is special to creator David Pierce.
“My uncle Mike, who was a really important person in my life and really was the inspiration for this show, passed suddenly last December,” said Pierce. “He wrote a lot of the poetry I set to music that first year. This year, we are playing one of the pieces he wrote the poem for that we played three years ago. I’m narrating it and Karen [MacIntyre, dancer and chief choreographer for Cirque] choreographed a beautiful dance for it.”
Cirque du Horror is an original Halloween musical crafted by Pierce, who considered himself a freelance trombone player and teacher until he wrote the musical five years ago. Pierce has said before that Halloween is his favorite holiday and that there was a dearth of music for it, especially when compared to music written for Christmas.
Thus began Cirque, which Pierce refreshes each year with new songs. Local singers and performers perform numbers, which are typically stories within themselves.
So far, Pierce hasn’t written a musical in the tradition of Broadway, in which characters propel a single story to its end. Rather, Cirque plays like a Halloween variety show, with characters — a lonely demon, an adventuresome mouse or a town of people willing to bargain with the devil — telling their own stories.
Pierce has a knack for pacing, punctuating dramatic and disturbing pieces like 2012’s “Winter’s Gifts” with funny numbers, like last year’s two-headed man number “Hideous as Me.”
This year’s musical features nine songs, six of which are brand new. The Orchestra of the Undead features one violin, two reed instruments, four brass players, keyboard, guitar, bass and drums. Pierce continues to write for specific performers — both singer-actors and musicians in the orchestra. J. Paul Slavens returns as the rubber-faced Master of Ceremonies, and audiences should expect some humorous sounds from the orchestra’s tuba and bass trombone players.
Pierce said he keeps his creative brain percolating with lots of reading and plenty of music.
“Some songs are hard to write, and others seem like they write themselves, almost,” he said. “Like with ‘Hideous as Me’ last year, I had the idea of this two-headed man. One part would be dramatic, with the other, of course, being funny. It was easy to write that song, and it just felt good from the beginning.”
It didn’t hurt that Midlake guitarist Eric Pulido lent his tenor to the head obsessed with winning the love of a strange woman, or that New York jazz musician Bach Norwood sang the part of the head who just had the munchies.
“The music is very over-the-top, very opera,” Pierce said. “I like to write around a personality, and I have no problem over-exaggerating it.”
— Lucinda Breeding