THE BLUE FLOWER
West End Theatre
Review by John Delamar
IT'S A LITTLE BIT country... It's a little bit Kurt Weil?
It's not the famous country song, but it had elements of the Grand Ole Opery in it. What I'm talking about is the new (but not so new, it debuted at the New York Musical Theatre Festival back in 2004) musical, The Blue Flower, by Jim and Ruth Bauer. It's hard to explain what exactly the show is about, without seeing the piece as a whole. But, here is the low down: Three friends, one is an artist, the other a ladies man, and the other a female scientist. They embark on a journey of Dadaesque proportions across the Weimar controlled country of Eastern Europe. So there you go. It's a post World War I, Pre World War II, Dada inspired performance piece.
The thing that makes The Blue Flower so extraordinary is the way that it is put together as a whole.
Very few musicals nowadays are what I like to call “entirity musicals”. What I call “entirity musicals” are directed, conceived, breathed, performed, sold, as a whole unit. This is true of The Blue Flower. Take away one part of the production and the whole thing will come crashing down like a shoddy house of cards. All it’s elements are all so vital to making this not just another German based country/cabaret musical (Then again how many of those are there?).
Yes, the score is induced with the music of 1930’s Germany, but also riddled with country/western. Outside of the show, the musical is wonderful (and in my personal opinion the greatest asset to the production), but inside it makes so much more sense, seeing as though the score is based on character driven motives and movements. The funny thing is the way that the production was conceived, that is, without character or plot, only music and lyrics in mind. The show was built around the music that was already in existence, written for a show that Mr and Mrs Bauer wanted to write.
Taking themes from Dadaism as well as it’s inspired love child Surrealism, Ruth Bauer (the videographer for the production) compiled visual elements that both move the story along as well as stay true to the spontaneity of the movement. What I mean is this: There are projections that appear on a large screen, convincingly but to blend with the set, that both pull you in to the production as well as draw you out of the emotion. Brecht would have been proud, here his theory of theatre of the absurd is brought to surprising life by modernists. You are at once enthralled by the distracting video elements, then shown how they can move the story along much like the cinematography of a film. And that’s the kind of production that you see at the West End Theatre, a cinematic one. What director, Will Pomerantz has done is to make a staged musical seem almost like a movie instead of a live production.
There is nothing that can be said about the cast’s performance aside from, bravo. Nancy Anderson, as true to her fashion, was indelibly brilliant, but the award for outstanding showmanship must go to Meghan McGeary. Ms. McGeary throws herself full tilt into the character of Hannah, a cabaret performance artist, and gives a tour de force performance in the second act, that, though it may not be truly understood by all, can be appreciated for the sheer energy and vitality she put into it. Standing out among the men, Jamie LaVerdiere as the Fairytale Man, weaves the story of these compatriots as they navigate their way through the years after the war. LaVerdiere shines when he is both involved in the scene and when he is not. He skillfully shifts from set dressing to one man chorus with the greatest of ease. It is unquestionably this performance above all in The Blue Flower that stands as the best. There is a subtlety to the storytelling that LaVerdiere gives, and also a darker side. You want to trust him, to follow his lead, but you know that behind that twinkling smile there is a dark chasm of disillusionment. Even his surrealistic bowler hat can’t hide the fact that he is playing both sides.
All in all The Blue Flower can be best summed up like this, take a dash of Kurt Weil, add a sprinkling of Waylan Jennings, touch of performance art, and a twist of theatre of the absurd. What you have is a cocktail that has been masterfully created by Jim and Ruth Bauer, and one that stays with you for days after you’ve had it.