Out of Town
Lazarus Streamed, with Wild Abandonment and Alienation
I never got to see this musical when it opened at the New York Theatre Workshop. It was sold out almost instantly and I didn’t have the Outer Critic Circle in that I have now, but with the buzz of Lazarus and David Bowie combined, the streaming of the show was just too hard to ignore or pass up. It’s definitely a twisted heady trip to outer space; part sci-fi, part Bowie rock concert, shifted and structured, if you want to call it that, by the intensely unique Enda Walsh, the writer of the phenomenally fascinating Ballyturk. I can’t say that I always intuitively know where he is purposefully taking us in his plays, but here within the sequel to “The Man Who Fell to Earth“, the journey is a visual splendor grass of fantastical sophistication, staged with innate wonderment by the always interesting Ivo van Hove (Broadway’s West Side Story, West End’s All About Eve). The 1976 film, directed by Nicolas Roeg, was described back in the day by a critic from Empire as “profound and unknowing“, and if I could steal those words, just this once, I would gleefully honor this oddly engaging production with those exact same adjectives, plus a few more that might lead us down a slightly different path.
Centered around the twisted stranded extraterrestrial, played with empathetic dementia by Michael C. Hall (Signature Theatre’s Thom Pain (based on nothing); “Dexter“), this study in alienation and trauma feeds us, most willingly, a meal of numerous flavors and installations, with songs from Bowie’s wonderful catalog, and performances that are solidly constructed and meticulously performed. This kaleidoscope of impulses follows the show’s lead character, Thomas Newton, a creature from another place that Bowie inhabited most magnetically in the film, down and through an emotional expanse worthy of the film and the singer. Thomas is now financially rich but living in alcoholic seclusion, dreaming of a lost love, Mary Lou, while being cared for by a worshipping assistant by the name of Elly. It’s clever and solid in structure, playing out the complications with authenticity and abstractionism, and then, most dynamically, Thomas starts to engage in hypnotic conversations with an ethereal character simply known as ‘Girl’. He’s trapped and drowning alongside this ‘Girl’, flinging himself majestically around the sparse but complex landscape with high voltage energy, especially when David Bowie’s beats begin to fly outward, into his and our heads.
I was so wanting to “look up here” with wonder and excitement. There was nothing left to lose in this pandemic age, but the disconnect protected on the back wall, although beautiful and edgy, gets a bit lost in the manic pixels from the past. The music is obviously dynamic, with Japanese Geishas, Yoko Ono and John Lennon projections showing up to march this energy forward with Cha Cha Changes, bringing heat, guns, and bullets to the forefront. Amy Lennox, who plays the complex and intoxicating Elly, sings the 1971 song as a logical extension of her transformational desires, breathing life into the iconic Change song while we watch some of the other classics falter. Elly’s boyfriend, Zach, played strongly by Bobby Moreno, gives the shared space tension, but he and the actor are underused. The magnificent Sophia Anne Caruso (Broadway’s Beetlejuice) as the strange hypnotic ‘Girl’ delivers strength and power to her “Life on Mars?” backed strongly by an electric onstage band behind a clear acrylic screen. Her transcendent voice floats dynamically out, captivating our hearts and minds deeply and thoroughly, but does it really take us deeper into her character or situation? It’s hard to know, as the abstractions linger and weave themselves in and around our head in ways that don’t give us much understanding or clarity.
The layers are purposeful, with a clear concept, but where does it lead us to in the end. Designed by the evocative Jan Versweyveld (Park Avenue Armory’s The Damned) alongside video designer Tal Yarden (National/Broadway’s Network), the logical narrative disintegrates into the ultra-chic and depressive void of the space alien. Thomas guzzles down alcohol in the minimalist studio like he’s drinking water, while violence and foreboding tension ricochets across the large monitor and paints the back clear wall with pain and anger. A man named Valentine, played demonically by the mesmerizing Michael Esper, looks with a hunger to be surrounded by love, while psychotically wanting to destroy it with a psychotic passion. The ‘Girl’ seems to be somehow connected to this murderous ploy, but the lines that are taped to the ground never take off into a universe of comprehension. Do we need to fully understand the motivation of Elly’s transformational desire or the murdered Girl’s haunting? Well, probably not entirely. The dreamy fearful tale slips beyond our grasp, but is still quite beautiful to behold, especially when Hall gives us a heartbroken “Hereos” to admire and breath in. Even the most casual of admirers of Bowie will be blown away into a fan-based orbit, embracing the poetry and the ingenuity of this iconic, but confounding genius, especially when enveloped by the vocals of Hall.
For all of the show’s cryptic melancholy, the vibe is as freakishly engaging as each of Bowie’s eclectic songs. The fragmented scenes try to evoke emotional loneliness and loss inside a mental crisis storm layered with obsessive references. Walsh’s script is as scattered and confusing as Newton is walking around looking for his twinkies and a purpose. “You were sent here, and can’t get back home“, he realizes, stuck here and forever heartbroken. Yet, for all the show’s skill in projecting emotionality, I found myself more impressed by the visual sophistication than its attempt to present an engaging story. Many of the critics in New York and London stated that they found themselves lost in space, emotionally and intellectually confused by the plot, and I can’t say that I blame them. The abstract ideas and shrewd visuals layer up one on top of another without pause, giving existential anger and frustration a free rein to run wild. Never finding comfort in his surroundings, the lead and the audience engage in a complicated trek to understand how and where the story and Bowie’s electric music are taking us. And can we believe in this journey?
Thomas and the ‘Girl’ play inside the boundaries of a fantastically achieved attachment filled to the brim with hypnotic allusions and illusions, steeped in literary footnotes connected to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and beyond. The worlds are aligned, suggesting conflictual parallels with the Danish prince, that live and breath within. But if you truly desire to be pulled along by a driving narrative or sensical plot, you might want to stream elsewhere, as the abstractionisms are given the center stage and the spotlight completely. Only when Lennox sings heroically of her divided self or when Hall shines his vocal light into his character’s tortured soul do we find forgiveness and connection. Bowie’s songs and his untimely death add weight and wisdom to this study of pain and alienation, but can’t ultimately save itself or bring itself back to centeredness. We join solidly with the feeling, mainly because of Walsh’s wild ride through that dreamscape. But in reality, it is thanks to van Hove’s tense overwhelming staging, Yarden’s hypnotic imagery, and Brian Ronan’s dynamic sound, that we can fully embrace this original and trippy journey, propelling ourselves into the starry space of authenticity and abstractionism where we can float in its aura. It’s worth the ride, even when you don’t know where you are going.
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Florence Welch, Martyna Majok, Rachel Chavkin and More On New Musical Gatsby Coming To A.R.T
Florence Welch Photo by De Wilde
Producers Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, Jordan Roth, and American Repertory Theater(A.R.T.) at Harvard University announced today that Gatsby, a brand-new musical stage adaptation of the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, will make its highly anticipated World Premiere at A.R.T. in 2024, and will be directed by Tony Award® winner Rachel Chavkin and choreographed by Tony Award winner Sonya Tayeh.
Gatsby will feature music by Florence Welch, the Grammy Award-nominated international rock star of Florence + the Machine and Thomas Bartlett, the Oscar and Grammy Award nominee, with lyrics by Ms. Welch, and a book by Pulitzer Prize® winner Martyna Majok.
Gatsby will be produced at American Repertory Theater by special arrangement with Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, and Jordan Roth, in association with Robert Fox. Hannah Giannoulis serves as co-producer.
American Repertory Theater (Diane Paulus, Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director; Kelvin Dinkins, Jr., Executive Director) at Harvard University produces groundbreaking work to catalyze dialogue and transformation. Tony Award-winning and nominated productions include Jagged Little Pill; Waitress; Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; All the Way; The Glass Menagerie; Pippin; Once; and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Its revival of 1776, a co-production with Roundabout Theatre Company, is currently touring nationally. Learn more at AmericanRepertoryTheater.org.
Additional Gatsby news will be announced soon.
Reading For Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen and Ann McNamee New Musical Other World
Other World, a new musical with an original score and story by Tony Award Nominee Hunter Bell (book), Obie Award winner Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics), and singer-songwriter and author Ann McNamee(music and lyrics) will present invite-only staged readings on Thursday, March 16 and Friday, March 17 at Open Jar Studios in New York City. With direction by Jenn Rapp (The Illusionists Director/Choreographer) and choreography by Karla Puno Garcia (Tick, Tick … BOOM! film, Kennedy Center Honors), Other World is being developed in creative consultation with the five-time Academy Award winning WĒTĀ Workshop (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies).
One moment Sri and Lorraine are in a garage on Earth. The next, they’re unexpectedly transported into Sri’s favorite video game, Other World. Now trapped in the game and in a race against the clock, this unlikely pair must work together, discover their inner strengths, and connect with gifted gamers and astonishing avatars in order to survive and find a way home. With art direction provided by Academy Award–winning Wētā Workshop (The Lord of the Rings, Avatar), this heartfelt, humorous musical explores the connections we make on- and off-line, while celebrating the families and friendships we need to thrive in any world. Join us for this spectacular, original, otherwordly adventure. Your journey begins…now!
The cast features Micah Beauvais (Sri), Bella Coppola (Lorraine), Ryan Andes (Roman/Antagon), Madeleine Doherty (Myra), Kaden Kearney (Tris), Brandi Porter (Temula), Mikaela Secada (Jamie), with Sojouner Brown, Elena Camp, Sommer Carbuccia, Laura Dadap, Seth Rettberg, Sherisse Springer, Blake Stadnik, Levin Valayil, and Jason Williams.
The creative team for the developmental presentation also features music direction by Amanda Morton (KPOP), casting by Paul Hardt Casting (Once Upon A One More Time), video design by Khristian Bork (Coco live at the Hollywood Bowl, Danny Elfman – Coachella), sound design by Hidenori Nakajo (Octet), and general management by Alchemy Production Group (The Music Man, Come From Away). The Executive Producer is Lauren Tucker/Alchemy Production Group.
For more information about the show, visit https://otherworldmusical.com/
Hunter Bell (Book) earned an OBIE Award, a Drama League nomination, a GLAAD Media nomination, and a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical, all for the original Broadway musical [title of show]. Other credits include the books for Silence! The Musical (Lucille Lortel Nomination, Outstanding Musical), Now. Here. This. (Vineyard Theatre), Bellobration! (Ringling Bros. Circus), Villains Tonight! (Disney Cruise Lines), Found (Atlantic Theater, Drama Desk Nomination, Outstanding Book of a Musical), and Julie Andrews’ The Great American Mousical (Goodspeed). He is a co-creator of the web series “the [title of show] show” and has developed television with ABC Studios/ABC Television. Hunter is a proud graduate and distinguished alumnus of Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts, a member of the Dramatists Guild, Writers Guild, a MacDowell Fellow, and currently serves on the board of the Educational Theatre Association and Educational Theatre Foundation, national arts advocacy organizations representing theatre teachers and students.
Jeff Bowen (Music and Lyrics) wrote the music and lyrics for and starred in the Broadway musical [title of show] (OBIE Award) and Now. Here. This. Additionally, he has written music and lyrics for Now. Here. This. (Vineyard Theatre), Villains Tonight! (Walt Disney Company), and the theme songs for the web series “the [title of show] show” and “Squad ’85.” His songs can be heard on the original cast albums of [title of show], Now. Here. This., as well as Broadway Bares Openingsand Over the Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Project. He is a proud member of ASCAP, AEA, Writers Guild, Dramatists Guild, and the National Audubon Society. He serves as a faculty member of the National Theatre Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center.
Ann McNamee(Music and Lyrics) received a B.A. from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in Music Theory from Yale University, leading to a twenty-year career in teaching, choral conducting, and music research at Swarthmore College. After retiring as Professor Emerita, Ann composed for, sang, played keys, and toured with the Flying Other Brothers and Moonalice, both bands led by her husband Roger McNamee. She composed the majority of the songs on the Moonalice album that was part of T Bone Burnett’s nomination for Producer of the Year at the 2009 Grammy Awards. For the Lilith Fair tour in 2010, she fronted the band Ann Atomic. Another highlight was opening up for U2 at the Oakland Coliseum in November 2011. She retired from touring in 2012 in order to collaborate on musical theater projects full-time. Ann’s outside interests include co-founding the Haight Street Art Center, a community center/poster music/print shop to celebrate rock poster art in the Bay Area.
Out of Town
The Avett Brothers Musical Swept Away Sails Into Arena Stage This Fall
Swept Away, the new musical written by Tony Award winner John Logan (book) and “America’s biggest roots band” (Rolling Stone), The Avett Brothers (music and lyrics), was announced today as part of the 2023/24 season at Arena Stage, Washington, DC (Molly Smith, Artistic Director; Edgar Dobie, Executive Producer). Performances will begin November 25 and will continue through December 30. Tony Award winner Michael Mayer will direct the production as he had last year in the musical’s sold-out world premiere at Berkeley Rep. The Arena Stage engagement will feature an updated score with additional, never-before-heard songs. Swept Away is produced by Special Arrangement with Matthew Masten, Sean Hudock, and Madison Wells Live.
Swept Away is set in 1888, off the coast of New Bedford, MA. When a violent storm sinks their whaling ship, the four surviving souls — a young man in search of adventure, his older brother who has sworn to protect him, a captain at the end of a long career at sea, and a worldly first mate who has fallen from grace — each face a reckoning: How far will I go to stay alive? And can I live with the consequences?
Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director Molly Smith and Executive Producer Edgar Dobie, is a national center dedicated to American voices and artists. Arena Stage produces plays of all that is passionate, profound, deep and dangerous in the American spirit, and presents diverse and ground-breaking work from some of the best artists around the country. Arena Stage is committed to commissioning and developing new plays and impacting the lives of over 10,000 students annually through its work in community engagement. Now in its eighth decade, Arena Stage serves a diverse annual audience of more than 300,000. arenastage.org
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