Angels of Light shows were hallucinatory homages to 1930s Busby Berkeley musicals, a cinematic tap-dancing fantasy world in which Angel Jack and Hibiscus subbed for Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Their first show was Studio M, a lovingly produced family affair that was performed on a small semicircular stage that ratcheted up the dazzle factor. For each show they put on, Hibiscus created elaborate storyboards, his sisters joined him onstage, and their mother composed the songs. “I wrote almost all the music for the Angels of Light,” Ann Harris said. “George would say, ‘Oh, I need a sheik scene, with a sheik in it,’ and then I would come up with a song.” The Angels of Light show Gossamer Wings featured a massive storybook whose pages turned, moving the action forward from the Ice Age to the 1970s. Many of their shows dealt with environmental disasters that were occurring with an alarming frequency during that decade. “Who cares if the birds don’t sing as long as the cash box rings?” they sang in “Disposable Everything.” Ironically, these shows indirectly benefitted from the consumer culture–driven economy of abundance, which produced the junk they used for their shows. “You could find plenty of things in New York that were beautiful, beautiful,” Ann Harris recalled. “That’s how people did those shows, with costumes from fabric found on the street.” When the family discovered that a factory was throwing out piles of feathers, for instance, Ann and the kids used them for another one of their productions, Birdie Follies (which featured their friend Agosto Machado).
From Chapter 26 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore