When a show’s this unsuccessful, I’m usually not back the second night to buy a copy of the soundtrack. But well before sunset the day after viewing THE END OF CINEMATICS, I’d realized the insidious polyrhythms of composer Mikel Rouse’s pop-song score had burrowed their way into my psyche. In such cases, the best way I’ve learned to have rid of these guests is to hear them out–most literally.

That’s the main reason I timed my visit to the merch stand in the lobby of UNC’s Memorial Hall for the post-show talkback on Friday. Even madness such as this still has its limits.

Yes, I would–and did–pay good money to hear Rouse’s songs again. And no, you couldn’t pay me to relive the extended filibuster of a multimedia piece during which I first encountered them the night before–even with the free readmission offered to the audience at the end of Thursday’s show.

At least in theory, a multi-genre work like The End Of Cinematics should have a substantially larger number of opportunities to engage its audience than the average stage play, concert, music video or film alone, since it operates–or attempts to–on each of these channels simultaneously.

But then, the word “theory” is a rather tender subject when it comes to this creation. This work concludes a trilogy of works the composer has described as “opera verité.” Yes, it’s a catchy phrase, and a lovely–if highly improbable–concept.

Still, one wonders if the naturalistic, liberated quality implicit in the term is present at all in a production so firmly tethered to the rhythmic lockstep of a complex pre-recorded instrumental track. Indeed, don’t the most cinematic–and successful–moments in this production come as we watch a two-story live projection of Rouse negotiating the jagged, syncopated tightrope of “Come Up to Breathe” (or its later incarnation, “Movie Money”), “Men are Women” (and its earlier appearance with the title sexes inverted) or “White/Black/Yellow/Bat,” whose extended backing vocal chords form the bombastic “Prelude” to the work?

Unfortunately, such extended use of musical reprises points to another fundamental difficulty. Even at 62 minutes, The End Of Cinematics seems padded, with needlessly reiterated songs, poses, images–and, ultimately, concepts. All told, six songs, that together account for just under a third of the performance, are repeated (albeit sometimes under different title) without clear musical or thematic cause.

Even more problematic are the filmed images–idealized interpretations of Parisian street life from yesteryear–which are echoed in live tableaus on stage.

It’s hard to interpret these sequences either in praise or critique of classic cinema, the evening’s ostensible subject. Not when they seem more an homage–or, possibly, critique–of certain upscale clothing catalogs instead.

For the costuming choices significantly remain a lot more stark than the rest of the characterizations, both on film and on stage in this ultimately unfortunate work.

The smart white and black houndstooth coats all the women wear suggests they are echoing Lisa Boudreau, the woman on screen; just as the casual tan overcoat place all men as versions of Rouse’s onscreen self. True, identically dressed trios of men and women have explored the linked but alternative realties of the same characters in another work, choreographer Matthew Bourne’s Play Without Words. But here, Matthew Gandolfo, Robert Rivera and Rouse combined don’t convey one robust character convincingly. Meanwhile, Boudreau, a dancer with Merce Cunningham, seems little more than a mannequin who has been taken out of doors and awkwardly posed in the sequence “God Out of Control.”

Clearly, clothes don’t make the character. Neither do sets–even those as atmospheric as the Parisian bistros, clubs and nighttime boat rides depicted here. Repeatedly, shots and live scenes suggest friends gathering. But in the absence of characters, plot or believable dialogue (not Mr. Rouse’s forte, with sore-thumb lyrics like “Stay, whadaya say on the way?” repeated well beyond the point of desirability), we tire of repeated sightings of people that contain no new information–no matter how swank the tailoring.

Advice for this failed experiment: get the CD–and avoid the show. I can’t endorse the lapsed esthetics of The End Of Cinematics–but at least I can dance to it.

The End Of Cinematics
Mikel Rouse
Carolina Performing Arts Series

If you haven’t caught Broadway Series South’s professional touring version of THE LION KING, now’s a good time since the opening rush has subsided. The traveling show conveys much of the magic of the New York version, as Julie Taymor and Michael Curry’s intricate puppet creations fill Raleigh Memorial Auditorium with vivid color, movement and sound. Though Garth Fagan’s choreography animates the at times too predictable score by Elton John and Tim Rice, we still felt chills during the song “They Live in You”–and exulted every time the African chorus sang. Phindile Mkhize delights as Rafiki, a trickster and shaman rolled into one; while an uncanny Mark Cameron Pow animated Zazu the bird with physical grace and humor. Dan Donohue’s Scar seemed most dialed down from the Broadway version–though miking glitches helped him none at all the night we saw it. S. J. Hannah and Chaunteé Schuler anchored well as Simba and Nala, the future king and queen. If you can’t make it to New York, do make it to Raleigh for this show.

The Lion King

Broadway Series South
Through Oct. 22


The Cherry Orchard, Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern–See our capsule review in Best Bets. (Manbites Dog Theater, through Oct. 7.)

1/2 1776, Burning Coal Theatre–This lighthearted but uneven musical corrects a host of conservative myths about Our Founding Fathers, as it amusingly explores the actual compromises and back-room deals that were required to pass the Declaration of Independence. But the air keeps leaking out of scenes, as Matthew Earnest’s dubious direction inexplicably makes Thomas Jefferson (John Moletress) a pouting, preening matinee idol, before driving John Adams (David Henderson) uncomfortably beyond the edge of mania in the song “Is Anybody There?” Momentarily muddy staging–and questionable choices in lighting and set design–obscure other key moments as well, in a production where individual actors still had to fight to be heard over an unamplified four-piece band. (St. Mary’s School, through Oct. 8.)

E-mail Byron at bwoods@indyweek.com.