Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Blue Flower: It's Depressing So I Loved it

Sad to say The Blue Flower closed today.  I had heard much chatter about it on twitter and finally got myself over to see the closing show.

It's a new musical about 3 three friends in Europe from their halcyon days in 1913 through World War I and World War II.  There is of course a love triangle between two artists, Max and Franz, who both love scientist Maria.  Eventually Maria takes up with Franz and Max takes up with a Dada artist Hannah but World War I crushes the world as they knew it and they all struggle to put the pieces together for the rest of their lives.

It's a great background for a musical because the period is fraught with drama.  It's dark material and you all know I love dark material.  I thought the story was stronger in the first Act: setting up the characters, their relationships, the tensions between them and the arrival of War.  Things got a lot murkier in the second Act where some of the focus, narrative drive and momentum is lost.  To some degree this is a reflection of the characters, being lost after the War but I wish it had found it's way a little more artfully.

The cast is terrific from top to bottom.  Sebastian Arcelus is Franz (dreamy, dreamy, dreamy--uhm dreamy and what a gorgeous voice).  Marc Kudisch is Max.  Teal Wicks is Maria.  Meghan McGeary is Hannah.  They all sounded amazing.  My only quibble was that Kudisch and McGeary read a lot older than Arcelus and Wicks and they were supposed to be contemporaries.  It's a small quibble but it bugged me from time to time. Max is supposed to be seen from youth through his older years so it "kinda" worked but still felt a little off. 

The music was generally amazing.  Not locked into a style or sound of the era.  In fact the music seems more like Weimar era music interpreted through a contemporary gloss with a dash of country music thrown in (yeah, a little weird).  But it did not feel like it was trying to be period but just riffing on the period music.  I was really drawn in by the music and the voices. There were some amazing ballads and when the cast sang together it was gorgeous.  Definitely the kind of show you leave and want to buy the cast album of.  Sadly there is no cast album for sale.  

One of the more compelling elements of this production is the use of silent movie footage, subtitles, collages and projections.  Being a cinema person (and someone who has seen way too many short films, experimental films, art house films and documentaries) I did not love all the footage used.  I know what look and style they were going for.  A for effort.  Sometimes it hit just right (the collages were nice) and other times it looked a little cheap and weak (some of the intro footage looked like bad video).  It was definitely an intriguing approach and gave the show a historic perspective.  I think normal people would be fine with it.  I'm just hyper-critical of film footage and how it looks and this just looked messy to me.  I liked the idea of it but I thought the execution could have been better. 

Oddly enough I kept thinking of Bonnie and Clyde throughout this show.  I'm holding back my review on B&C until it opens but the two shows share a lot of similar elements even if they are very different shows.  Both are dealing in dark subject matter and are heavily dependent on emotional ballads.  Both use wooden sets.  Both use documentary projections and visuals to give historic references and a defined sense of place. 

I was a little disappointed in the set for The Blue Flower.   The raw timber set seemed out of place for the mood being set and the time period being depicted.  It felt unexpectedly unpolished.  With so many rich art references from the time period I'm not sure why they chose the texture they did.  I guess it could be referencing a raw frame, an easel or a canvas stretcher.  But it looked a little too raw and unfinished and did not carve out the space to add to the story or characters.  Take it away and all that would be left are the projections which do most of the heavy lifting here anyway. 

Again, these are quibbles.  It's an intriguing and engaging new musical.  I would recommend others checking it out--if it had not just closed.  Maybe it will spring to life somewhere else.  If so, worth seeing for the lovely music, interesting time period depicted and dark story. 

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