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Miami band Afrobeta composes music for play 'Boom'

Afrobeta goes 'Boom': Miami band lends doomsday music to new comedy opening @MOCANOMI

It's the eve of the apocalypse, and journalism student Jo is demanding sex.

Onstage at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, Jo has just shoved her love interest, a marine-biology graduate named Jules, against the wall, which is wallpapered with rows of empty plastic jugs and pill-bottle caps. A submarine door with a spoked wheel stands behind them, and foam pool noodles protrude from the walls. He wants to chat. She does not. Jo plants a big, sloppy kiss. Jules squirms. "That was the worst kiss ever," Jo says.

"I'm a homosexual," Jules says.

"You don't look gay," Jo says.

"Like, clothing-wise?" Jules asks.

So begins the not-quite romantic doomsday comedy "Boom," staging its Florida premiere on Thursday, Jan. 7, inside a museum storage room that its presenter, new company the Basement Project, has transformed into a 75-seat black box theater.

Nicole Fernandez, who plays Jo, and Francisco Carreno, who plays Jules, have for weeks been rehearsing Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's play, which is aided by a whacked-out, genre-spanning original score arranged by acclaimed Miami electro-funk band Afrobeta.

Afrobeta is the Cuban-American, husband-and-wife duo of multi-instrumentalist Tony Smurphio, who composed four original songs, and Cuci Amador. In "Boom," Amador plays Barbara, whom she describes as a "crazy lab professor lady and Jiminy Cricket narrator," pulling levers and interacting with characters. Amador also sings, interrupting the play's action dressed in a blue-stained costume that resembles a ballerina dress caught in a washing machine's spin cycle.

"Before I even read the script, I was drawn in, because I love the idea of bringing theater to a museum," says Amador, 36, whose real name is Cristina Elena Garcia. "The way we're approaching the music, it's all in service to the story. Tony's sound design is already otherworldly, and that lends itself to an apocalyptic future."

The science-fictiony "Boom" concerns Jules, a loner whose racy online personal ad for meaningless casual sex is answered by Jo, whose aggressive, direct behavior turns Jules tense. The play, which is 90 minutes without an intermission, is confined to a single room, a futuristic underground lab decorated with neon-colored circuit boards.

Artistic director Oleg Kheyfets chose the 20-something cast, along with Afrobeta's hip electronic experimentation, as a way to target "young people, which is my favorite audience," he says.

"Young people are the best audience because you can't cheat them," says Kheyfets, who is founder of the Basement Project and co-founder of the Miami Theater Center's PlayGround Theatre. "Theater either goes to their guts or their hearts, and once they love it, they'll be yours forever."

The serendipitous union of Afrobeta and "Boom" came in July, after Kheyfets spotted Smurphio and Amador collaborating on a performance by avant-garde orchestra Nu Deco Ensemble at Wynwood's Miami Light Project. "I love classic music, but I was looking for something like Bjork," Kheyfets says with a laugh.

Smurphio, who composed scores for plays in the 1990s, loved the idea. The hardest part of rehearsals, he says, has been "adjusting to the morning rehearsal schedule, instead of the grimy Miami bar we stumble out of at 2 a.m."

"The play is perfect for our style of music," says Smurphio (real name: Tony Laurencio). "The only difference is with Afrobeta, we'll compose music organically, on the beach, with an acoustic guitar before we put it in the electronic realm. In this case, we're going by a story outline."

On this rehearsal day, Smurphio is punching keys and flipping knobs on a battle station of laptops and Roland synthesizers, and sports a silver-streaked Afro and a flowing gray gown that tapers around his shoes. Smurphio says he'll be offstage during performances, cuing music and sound effects that he likens to R2D2's "bleeps and bloops." In one medley, Smurphio incorporates samples from Beethoven, the Chordette's "Mr. Sandman" and Nirvana's "Territorial Pissings."

"I'm going for a mood that's dark, dystopian, but also positive," says Smurphio, who took a break in December from touring Afrobeta's 2015 album, "Dream About You," to compose the play's score. "It goes Beethoven to jazz standards to 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow,' music from the last 300 years. I think of it as music you hear right before the comet hits the Earth, where your whole life flashes right before you die."

Nicole Fernandez, who plays Jo, was a student of Kheyfets' at Miami-Dade College. She's been impressed by the "elaborate costumes" and by Afrobeta's score.

"I'm a new fan," says Fernandez, 22. "They're on my Spotify playlist."

The Basement Project's "Boom" will open 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 7 through Jan. 31 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, 770 NE 125th St. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $18.50-$35. Call 305-677-9200, or go to TheBasementProject.org.

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