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October 24, 2014

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The ‘Craigslist miracle’ of Marionette Matinee

Local band headed by Phantom understudy to perform Friday at Freakin’ Frog

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Marionette Matinee thinks this piece of art represents them well. See if you agree at its free 9 p.m. show Friday at Freakin’ Frog.

Being in a band is cool. Being in a stage production is cool. Which basically means that Ben Hale is twice as cool as your run of the mill Strip performer or local band member.

Ben Hale was raised by a father who spent the '80s in an MTV-appearing rock 'n' roll band before opening a theater company in Utah. So, for Ben, melding the bright lights of a big stage theatre with the less-friendly lights of your local band show is easy. It comes naturally.

Hale is a chorus member and understudy in Phantom: Las Vegas Spectacular (for Raoul and six other characters) at the Venetian. He's also the lyricist and guitarist of Marionette Matinee, a band beginning to perform locally after spending a year behind closed doors making music and recording. Las Vegas Weekly caught up with Hale before his free 9 p.m. show Friday at Freakin' Frog to talk about his various hats and why he has a special fondness for Craigslist.

Musical theater versus being in a band: Do you prefer one to the other?

"I like them equally. I can't live without one. ... I've been in Phantom since it started three or so years ago. I loved it. I still love it, but I was getting itchy to get in a band. I had previous bands in Utah, but left them to come do Phantom. So, I'd take any opportunity to do open mic nights. I missed having a band."

What do you love about performing musical theatre?

"There's something to be said about being a part of a huge production. When I first got to Phantom, it was like, 'I'm not worthy!' I don't know how they cast me or why, but they did! [Musical theatre] is a different technique, classic. You also get to put on that character hat. ... Imagination gets the better of me. I love the performing aspect of it, being able to interact with other actors."

And what about being in a band?

"I love how so much of rock 'n' roll is dictated by how the audience guides you. That's a little more interactive, and it feels a little more risky than musical theater where you have everything charted out for you. You're creating your own material. You don't know if anyone will enjoy it. ... You're face to face with these people. Also, it's another style of singing."

How did you form Marionette Matinee?

"I had tracked (the bassist Ross Lillebo) down through Craigslist — I guess that's kind of weird, or that might be a fairly regular thing, I don't know — about a year ago. We started collaborating, and just kind of worked from there. ... He has a lot of love for the old stuff from the '60s and '70s. I felt the same affinity for it. ... I also work at Guitar Center and one of the people who kept coming in to buy guitars was Josh Kennedy. We just decided to start playing music. ... Joe (Chudyk), the drummer currently, we met him through Craigslist. He actually teaches a class at UNLV; he's in his last semester of getting his masters. ... We call ourselves a Craigslist miracle."

The band's name is pretty theatrical. Do you consider the music to be?

"We consider it rock 'n' roll, but well thought-out lyrically. We really wanted to bring home the lyrics. There's a lot of good groups out there but they don't have lyrical backing."

Why are lyrics so important?

"It was the music I was raised on. Anywhere from the Beatles, the Kinks, Ron Sexsmith, Elvis Costello — they were all very into creating songs that have a little more depth."

— Originally published on LasVegasWeekly.com

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