I just had one of the greatest artistic experiences of my entire life. A musical called The Blue Flower, by Jim and Ruth Bauer. It's beautiful and weird and thrilling and powerful and incredibly original, as if Kurt Weill and Jacques Brel were still alive and decided to write a new rock musical.
It's about the artist Max Baumann and his circle of friends in Europe at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, as they grapple and struggle with the tumultuous waves in the tides of history. But it's also about art making. And when the show ends, we realize that this musical is a collage like the ones that Max makes, a rush of images, colors, film, movement, and some of the most gorgeous music and most poetic lyrics I've ever heard.
It's almost more performance art than conventional musical, defiantly breaking one rule after another -- not just for the sake of breaking rules, but because it's a story about artists who were testing boundaries, breaking rules, throwing off the conventions of past generations, trying to break through to something new. And though its aggressively Brechtian style seems to hold us at arm's length, it's still one of the most emotional shows I've seen in years.
The profoundly high-energy, versatile cast almost never leaves the stage, but at the center of it all is Broadway veteran Marc Kudisch who gives a fearless, reveletory performance as Baumann, in glorious voice and with the weight of history on his shoulders and his heart.
It's one of those shows that's so stylized, so specific in its physicality, and director Will Pomerantz and choreographer Chase Brock have created some of the most intense, most interesting, most beautiful staging I've ever seen.
It's so rich and so smart and so all-around amazing that as much as I loved it -- and Jesus, did I love it -- I don't know that I'd want to direct it myself. Not only does it use a ton of film and projections (and you know me, I hate tech), but also, I just can't imagine anyone equaling the brilliance of this staging. It seems so perfect, as if the gods of theatre brought together these writers, this production staff, and these actors for this one perfect moment, never to be repeated. It's a show that reminds us how magical great works of the theatre can be in the right hands.
The other shows I've seen this weekend, Bonnie & Clyde and Lysistrata Jones, are great shows, but The Blue Flower is something different. I'll never forget this show as long as I live. More proof, if I needed it, that my chosen art form has never been more vigorous, more alive, more inventive, or more thrilling. This is the Golden Age of the Ameican musical theatre. I've never been more convinced of that than I am right now.
Long Live the Musical!
P.S. See also my thoughts on Follies, Lysistrata Jones, Bonnie & Clyde, and Rent.
P.P.S. A few weeks after I originally posted this, I was able to arrange an interview with Jim and Ruth Bauer about The Blue Flower, for a local radio show I co-host, Break a Leg: Theatre in St. Louis and Beyond. You can listen to the interview on the KDHX website.