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The Musical Box brings the bizarre to the Taj Mahal

By CHUCK DARROW
Gannett News Service
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One of show business' oddest success stories returns to Atlantic City Wednesday as The Musical Box opens a four-night stand at the Taj Mahal's Xanadu room.

The Musical Box is the Montreal-based outfit that has garnered a surprisingly large following by painstakingly recreating Genesis concerts. Not the latter-day Genesis for which the irrepressible Phil Collins warbled such pop confections as "That's All," "Invisible Touch" and "Throwing It All Away," but the earlier incarnation featuring musically complex and lyrically obtuse progressive-rock epics sung by Peter Gabriel (as Collins played drums).

This time out, TMB, which has the blessings and legal sanction of Genesis, is tackling 1974's "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," arguably the most complex and obtuse work of that version of Genesis. The piece, which originally covered two vinyl albums, focuses on Rael, a young, Hispanic New York street punk. Beyond that, it's anyone's guess as to what Gabriel was saying when he wrote it.

"I think when Peter wrote it, he didn't know what it was about. He's like that," said Denis Gagne, who plays the role of the enigmatic British singer-composer in the band.

So, what does Gagne think it all means?

"I would rather not say what it's about," he said in a soft French-Canadian accent. "I'm probably going to be wrong."

Gabriel's otherworldly costumes were the hallmark of all Genesis tours of that era. But those which Gabriel donned for the "Lamb" concerts were the most outrageous and bizarre of all; it took Gagne a good deal of time and effort just to get the monstrously surreal "Slipperman" outfit right.

"I spent two months working with people who do special effects for (that) costume," said Gagne. "That's full-time, 40 hours a week." Making the work difficult, he adds, was the lack of available footage of Genesis performing the material live.

"They refused to film those shows. They felt they weren't stable," he explains. "Every night, there was something going wrong. So they felt it wasn't worth filming the shows."

Incidentally, while Gagne's costumes are copies conjured from still photos, the 1,100 slides that accompany the songs TMB plays are directly from Genesis' own archives.

Despite TMB's cult-like popularity in North America and Europe, the group -- at least as it's presently constituted -- may be looking at the end of line. Gabriel left the group at the end of the "Lamb" world tour in 1975. As a result, there is nothing left for Gagne to accomplish.

He is noncommittal about what will happen when the band's legal rights to "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" expire in 2006. Then, he offers, the unit may revisit earlier Genesis material or, perhaps, have history repeat itself.

"Maybe our drummer (Martin Levac) will sing 'Squonk' and some of those (latter-day) songs," he said. "Who knows?"

Show times are 8 p.m. Wednesday through June 25. Admission is $39.50. For tickets and information, call (609) 449-5150, or go to www.trumptaj.com. For more on The Musical Box, go to www.themusicalbox.net.

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