The Blue Flower: The Other Brilliant Musical About An Artist That's In Town
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As I write these words the opening night party of Roundabout's revival of Sunday in the Park With George, which I'll be seeing on Saturday, is no doubt in full swing, but despite the sublime glories of that Steven Sondheim/James Lapine creation, there's another musical in town about radical artists that deserves just as much attention from anyone interested in the euphoric excitement felt when watching a unique, intelligent and wondrously creative evening of musical theatre.
Jim and Ruth Bauer's The Blue Flower, the latest offering from the consistently interesting Prospect Theatre Company, skillfully tackles the tricky business of mixing the art of musical theatre with the anti-art movement of Dada. Born in Zurich amidst the rubble of the First World War, Dada was an artistic, literary and theatrical movement that attacked the sensibilities of a culture that could send millions of young men to slaughter by celebrating anarchy and irrationality.
In telling the story of German artist Max Baumann (Marcus Neville, hiding complex poeticism behind an everyman facade) looking back on his life through items pasted into a scrapbook, the authors make a theatrical collage out of archival and imitation archival film footage with theatre songs that combine the period Weimar sound with American country-western (Max is a big fan of cowboys.), creating a fact-based fictional musical documentary. Jim Bauer wrote the book and score based on Ruth Bauer's story, while she created the artwork and they collaborated on the videography. The resulting production, directed and choreographed with an appropriately raw sense of theatricality by Will Pomerantz is captivating, not only for the effectiveness of the unique form of story-telling, but for the rush of watching such a daring and unconventional effort succeed so brilliantly.
The rest of the talented company includes Robert Petkoff as Max's war hero friend, Franz, Megan McGeary as the deadpan lusty Dadaist cabaret performer, Hannah ("I wish I could eat enough as I'd like to puke," she sings.) and the ethereally-voiced Nancy Anderson as party girl scientist, Marie. (Her stunningly delicate singing of "Eiffel Tower," a ballad about accepting the changes that come from tragedy, is the evening's high point.) A narrating figure known as Fairy Tale Man is played with graceful authority by Jamie LaVerdiere. He's assisted by Jason Collins as Sewing Machine Man and Eric Starker as Typewriter Man. (You'll see what the names mean.)
Under music director Mark Rubinstein, the spirited 8 piece band (piano, accordion, bass, cello, bassoon, guitar, drums and pedal steel guitar) delivers a unique sound, including a hilarious moment when Kurt Weill is quoted with a pronounced twang. Designers Nick Francone (set), Sidney Shannon (costumes) and Cory Pattak (lights) all make fine atmospheric contributions.
And if you'd like to ask why Max sometimes speaks in a made-up nonsense language called Maxperanto… don't. Dada doesn't get along well with "Why?"
Photos by Tyler Kongslie: Top: Meghan McGeary and Marcus Neville; Bottom: Robert Petkoff and Nancy Anderson
Posted on February 22, 2008 - by
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About the Author:After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.