Posted in music | pictures on May 13, 2009

photos by Beth Hommel, words by Dese'Rae L. Stage

Amanda Palmer - Boston - With the Needle That Sings in Her Heart

I'm willing to bet that, when Amanda Palmer went back to her high school in the suburbs of Boston to collaborate with mentor and long-time drama teacher Steven Bogart, no one expected it to be heavily press-worthy. I'm also willing to further wager it was unanticipated that the product of said collaboration would pack the 1000-capacity auditorium at Lexington High for every performance [May 7, 8 and 9 at the LHS theater]. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure the only thing I was sure of was that the experience would be exceptionally moving--even to the point of tears. Palmer has proven, time and again, her proclivity for making art of various mediums that pulls at the heartstrings, and this was no exception.

"With the Needle That Sings in Her Heart," the collective brain child of Bogart, Palmer, and the entire cast of twenty drama students from Lexington High School, was inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" and loosely based on Anne Frank's experience in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. If ever there were proof that intention levels the playing ground for making art, this is it. Never in a million years would I have thought that such young kids could create a work that so effectively explores themes of death as cruel, yet somehow compassionate in its inevitability or, not only the existence of a god (or gods, as Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades make a brief appearance in the show), but his very ego, going so far as to assert more than once that any god who could subject his people to such suffering must hate himself. Driving the work was also the concept that imagination can be a powerful tool for survival in extreme adversity, artfully illustrated by Emma Feinberg's portrayal of Anne. Then you have the surrealist bent the piece takes, likely provided not only by the colorful imagery in Jeff Mangum's lyrics, performed almost exclusively by leading man, Alex Parrish, but also attributed to Palmer's experience as a performance artist, which inevitably rubbed off on the entire cast.

Really, the show was amazing. The technical direction was seamless. The set design was complex and fluid. The performances, both musical and theatrical, were on par with--hell, I don't know, but they were so far beyond anything you'd expect from a high school production. I've long thought that, in order to create a moving piece of art, the intention had to be pure, fearless, and had to lack the self-consciousness many of us develop with age. The fact that I can't stop thinking about "With the Needle That Sings in Her Heart" two days later tells me that maybe Bogart and Palmer are on to something.

More pictures below...

Amanda Palmer - Boston - With the Needle That Sings in Her Heart

Amanda Palmer - Boston - With the Needle That Sings in Her Heart

Amanda Palmer - Boston - With the Needle That Sings in Her Heart

Amanda Palmer - Boston - With the Needle That Sings in Her Heart



Comments (21)

is this available online or on dvd?

Posted by Anonymous | May 13, 2009 11:01 AM

You can check Ustream, but we are also in the process of putting together an HD version for the web. It will be worth the wait, ustream compression is hardcore.
love, mediavoxNYC

Posted by mediavoxnyc | May 13, 2009 12:34 PM

i watched this stream and was blown away, so i can't imagine how great it must have been as an audience member. thanks for this review, it certainly encompassed my sentiments.

dear mediavoxnyc,
thank you.

Posted by Anonymous | May 13, 2009 1:01 PM

I don't know why, but something about this just feels wrong. Maybe it's that I am not a fan of The Dresden Dolls / Palmer, or that Aeroplane is one of my favorite albums of the 90's, but it's probably because I'm hungover and I don't like thinking about high school. Yay!

Posted by Anonymous | May 13, 2009 1:51 PM

I was lucky enough to score two tickets to the Saturday matinee & couldn't have asked for a more inspiring and moving piece in terms of production, performance & especially content. What a truly amazing group. Always happy to support AFP.

Posted by Tina | May 13, 2009 2:07 PM

I saw the show Saturday night. I had to work incredibly hard not to burst into tears at the end of the show. Between the story content and the outrageously beautiful music & lyrics it was really something to behold in real life. Side note - the actors brought up audience members onto the stage during the very beginning and unfortunately one of the women fell through a hole in the stage. I have never in my life heard so many people turn so completely silent as I did sitting there. The play was only about 5-10 minutes in at this time and I was pretty certain based on what I just saw unfold on stage that we were all going to be left without a show due to some horrific & unexpected accident. Long story short, after some short ad-libing by the cast the woman was rescued and escorted out of the auditorium seemingly unscathed, just pretty embarrassed.

Needless to say, the show was brilliant and if you are a fan of either AFP or NMH or both then scour the nets for a video.

Posted by Auber Gine | May 13, 2009 2:27 PM

find the a performance video at:

Posted by cast mom | May 13, 2009 2:46 PM

i went to this high school and did some work under bogart. this is just typical lexington high school drama work...i'm pretty tired of it.

Posted by Dave | May 13, 2009 2:54 PM

this should be made into a movie or something.

Posted by Anonymous | May 13, 2009 2:57 PM


Is it necessary to be mean spirited about a group of high school kids who demonstrated some passion and love for creating something special?

Posted by dru | May 13, 2009 3:51 PM

it's not the high school kids fault that this amanda palmer bitch decided to butcher the hell out of something that doesn't need to be picked apart or reinterpreted in the first place. this shit is way too campy and overdramatic.....people can do what they want with reinterpretations, but i think it's ridiculous to touch something that is nearly flawless to begin with. again, no criticism to the kids, but at least they'll be fast-tracked to being pretentious asshole hipsters a few years ahead of the rest of their class.

Posted by Anonymous | May 13, 2009 4:05 PM

"Vocalist Amanda Palmer has always been a star in her own head"

Posted by Anonymous | May 13, 2009 4:26 PM

This means nothing.

Posted by dru | May 13, 2009 4:48 PM

I guess it is necessary for you to be mean spirited.

Posted by dru | May 13, 2009 5:01 PM

The thing about Aeroplane is its only mildly inspired by Anne Frank... there are songs that have either no connection/reference to Anne Frank on there or very limited.. a lot of it is just Mangum's imagination running wild exorcizing some of his own personal demons .. yes he does have a vivid and fascinating imagination but the biggest appeal of the record is that it is so touching in a unspecific way.. To try to create a musical play around it just means they are interpreting Aeroplane as if he intended it to have a complete vision & distinct theme The Holocaust/ Anne Frank

Posted by Anonymous | May 13, 2009 5:23 PM

No. There is intention and choice in the creative process. The intention and choice these kids made is pure. They never tried to say that what they did is THE interpretation. They dove into the album and the lyrics and free-associated to discover the story they wanted to tell. It is you, from a place of ignorance regarding these kids and their experience with the music, who is deciding what they intended. Shame on you!

The album was a catalyst for them. They created something beautiful. The came from a place of humility. You don't have to like the piece, but all this other stuff you're saying is just a lot of spiteful BS. And it's not clear what your motivation could possiblly be other than you hate Amanda Palmer. Grow up!

Posted by dru | May 13, 2009 5:54 PM

You know.. it could be said that this play is only mildly inspired by NMH and mildly inspired by Anne Frank. I don't think they were trying to go for some kind of big complete interpretation of NMH's album. Yes, they used it as an overall kind of theme, but it was also about Anne Frank and HER imagination. The way she might have seen things. How she might have tried coping, and also how other people coped. It also examined the absurdity of the whole situation, and death, and god. It was a high school play, made by high school students, their hearts were in it, and it was great.

I'm glad I was able to see it, and I can't wait to see a better quality version!

Posted by Anonymous | May 13, 2009 6:12 PM

I was lucky enough to see the friday night show, and I sobbed through nearly the entire show. I thought I was the only one, but there were plenty red eyes in the lobby afterwards. I wasnt sure it could match the spiritual quality that In the Aeroplane has. I'd dare say it even surpassed it.

Posted by sarah henriques | May 13, 2009 10:33 PM

Wonderful Article! Finally somebody that really knows what they are talking about and can additionally produce common sense material for us visitors. Certainly looking forward to your next blog post.

Posted by Demetrius | July 8, 2013 5:06 PM


Posted by Anonymous | August 22, 2013 9:03 AM

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