[LIVE REVIEW] Welcome to Night Vale @ Comedy Theatre, Melbourne 09/02/2018


Upon walking to the Comedy Theatre, you can tell straight away who is here to see tonight’s show and who has no idea what Welcome to Night Vale is. Some fans have dressed up and there are white lab coats, third eyes painted on to foreheads, a faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home and Glow Cloud cos-players. Everyone is chatting to each other about their love of all things strange and weird. The people passing by make me laugh as some stop to stare, laugh or some out of curiosity, ask what is on tonight because there are only posters for the American Idiot stage show about and I can’t see any posters outside promoting Welcome to Night Vale.

For those who are unfamiliar with ‘Welcome to Night Vale’, it began as a podcast in 2012 written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. The podcast follows the telling of radio host Cecil Baldwin and his little town of Night Vale where it is regular everyday life, except for the fact that believing in angels or the existence of angels is illegal, they do exist, and they are all name Erica. Mountains are fictional and that the town once had a literal five headed dragon run for mayor. The story telling is heavily influenced by H.P Lovecraft and his distinct way to show how truly horrible the unknown and immense the universe is. Fink and Cranor have created about 120 episodes of original story and have produced live shows across America, Europe and have previously been to Australia once before in 2015. They are back this time for two nights in Melbourne with two completely different shows each night. Tonight’s show is titled ‘ALL HAIL’ and revolves around the almighty Glow Cloud that leads the PTA Board and how it’s upset and dropping animals to the ground that increase in size by the hour and destroying the town.

The show opens with Meg Bashwinner giving an introduction and explain the theatre’s House Rules. Meg sets the ball rolling in Night Vale fashion entering to crowd applause and screaming and stating that “Only in Showbiz is it promising that the void before you is screaming, any other profession and it’s concerning”. Meg is one of the voice actors for Welcome to Night Vale and is their ‘Proverb Lady’ for the end of each episode. After getting the crowd ready for tonight’s event, Meg introduces this evenings ‘Weather’ Artist, Erin McKeown. Erin is an American singer/song writer with a folk/blues rock sound and a beautiful voice. She plays a short 30min set and in this time both her and the crowd have a blast. She has the crowd clap to keep time for the song but the crowd speed up on her to which she needs to start again and jokes about learning how to clap to the crowd. She then has a ‘call and response’ style song which she would like crowd involvement and states that she’ll clap because we can’t handle both clapping and singing. During her set she talks about how it is to be a touring musician and how she originally got into music. She explains that her last song is about walking your own path and forging your own sound just to be you. An inspiring way to bring her set to a close.

Erin walks off stage and Meg comes back on for a quick moment to introduce Disparition, Welcome to Night Vales background music for the show. He is set up to the side of the stage with his laptop and a mandolin. Throughout the entire show he is playing the mood music for the scenes and does an incredible job to keep it all perfect in a live scenario.  Meg then introduces Cecil Balwin, Nightvale Radio’s host. The crowd hail him with cheers as he walks out on stage and speaks the words we’ve all been waiting to hear in his deep resonating voice “Good evening, Night Vale” and the show begins. Within the first five mins Cecil is setting up his script and water bottle on the stand in front and goes to turn away from the mic for a second, knocking the mic stand next to him and catching it just in time, to which he states to a laughing crowd “Good thing I’m in the radio station and no one saw me knock my microphone stand”. I used this as a gentle reminder that we are in fact watching something live that the crowd would usually listen to at home in headphones. They have done well to put this to a stage show, even if it is the voice actors standing there. It is still very much an episode of Welcome to Night Vale. Our show has the regular sections of the podcast, which include our horoscopes where Cecil gets lusty for a Scorpio in the front row and gets down on all fours. We also have our community calendar where Tuesdays no longer exist and have been replaced with a Starbucks and through the children’s fun fact science corner, Cecil shows the crowd how to hunt for ghosts using the lights on our phones. He asked the crowd to turn on their phone lights and shine it directly in front of them and if they look close enough they can see the backs of ghost’s heads, seeing as we should be at home alone listening to the radio. We then shine the lights at the people next to us as he states that the ghosts are all around us.

Cecil starts to explain that the local head of the PTA board, the almighty Glow Cloud has changed recently and is above the radio station dropping dead animals which are slowly increasing in size over time. We have some of our favourite Night Vale characters come through the show, Deb the sentient patch of haze who has a business pitch for Hiltons Motels, for our human squishy meat sacks that rest and hallucinate. Michelle Nguyen, owner of the Dark Owl Records shop and she explains that there is a community fair in Mission Grove Park coming up with plenty of fun activities for everyone, including the release of predatory cats to keep the kids occupied. Cecil thanks her for his recent copy of Ed She-Rahns latest free form jazz album and states that his music is now better since he split from One Direction. Coming back to the inspirational moments, Michelle makes a comment on the music she listens to is all around us and points out members of the crowd who are, waiting in silence, sniffing, give a single clap, laughing which then turns to awkward laughter and then complete silence. Tamika Flynn, leader of the towns militia comes in with her plan to take down the Glow cloud using tear gas but fails to see how the plan won’t work until Cecil points it out that the Glow cloud is still a cloud and the tear gas will just go straight through it, so she changes her plan to poison darts and run off stage. Both writers of the show Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor have a small part to play in their stage show. Joseph plays a shape-shifting teen who is currently in the form of a middle-aged man and Jeffrey is today’s radio intern. Jeffrey explains how has learnt to control time and become the only radio intern to not die on the job. He creates a time paradox in going back in time to make sure he doesn’t exist. Through this he also explains that due to his fear of flying he got rid of aeroplanes and because of this the wright brothers invented the catapult and cushion method of transportation.

As the storyline progresses we are told that through group chanting, as is taught in primary/elementary school, we can help stop and calm the Glow Cloud. Cecil has an eager crowd following along with his words and actions, but nothing seems to work, so he tries more exaggerated movements and expressions. By the end of the show, we learn the true phrases and movements from the Glow Cloud itself and that the universal sign for love is the ‘Thumbs Up’.

As the show comes to a close Cecil summarizes the story line and gives the advice of being good to each other especially in these dark times. He leaves the audience to think on what has happened in the episode tonight and as always, signs off his radio show with “Goodnight Night Vale, goodnight”.

As the cast walks on stage for their final bow, the crowd is standing, clapping and cheering as each member steps forward. Having been a fan of the podcast for a couple of years, it was incredible to see the faces behind the voices and watch them bring a radio show to life in front of a live audience, which is no easy feat. I and the rest of the fans watching tonight are excited for the future of the podcast and all that will unfold in Night Vale.

Review Contributed by Mitch Charlton