The Morning After...

I wasn't really planning to write another post about Bukowsical...

But here I sit, at 3:00 a.m. on closing night, not wanting to go to bed (as on all closing nights) because that's the real end of the run for me, once Saturday night is over. I hate closing shows. I fall so deeply in love with the shows we do -- and we're very fucking lucky that we get to do shows that are really easy to fall in love with.

But this one will always be special to me. Maybe just for its -- and our -- sheer audacity, if nothing else. This show has balls for days. It is fearless. And there's nothing I love more than fearless. Not even banana bread. And equal to the show's fearlessness was the fearlessness of our cast, a group of real New Line All-Stars. This show (like many others we do) only works if it's fearless. Any skittishness kills it.

Audiences are like dogs -- they can smell fear.

Bukowsical is about balls. Bukowski had jumbo coconut balls. He faced down the very worst life has to offer, over and over again, all his life, the really dark shit that most of us manage to escape, and he stared that motherfucker down every time. A Hero Myth story is usually a story about survival -- because that's the journey of a human life -- and Bukowski was a black-belt in survival.

And also a brilliant, prolific, insightful artist at the same time. There's a line Nick says in the show that's very funny, but it's also really true about Bukowski's work --
You're like a modern-day Dostoyevsky, updating the primary tenets of existentialism and probing the conflicted psychological abyss of the disenfranchised in a blunt prose style that combines ego, self-loathing, and a profound sensitivity to mankind and all its failings.

It's a really funny line (particularly in the hands of Nick Kelly), because it exposes the "lie" of the show's faux simplistic musical comedy style, but it's also funny because it's unexpectedly true. And it's moments of truth like this that raise this show far above the mindless parody musicals (like Silence! and Evil Dead) that have invaded the bloodstream of off Broadway and off off Broadway.

Despite his darker side (and his rants against marijuana), I've grown to respect Bukowski so much as we've worked on the show. I already loved his poetry but now I love his novels too -- and because they're so intensely autobiographical, I feel like I've gotten to know him kind of intimately.

I'd never want to live like him, but I wish I could be half the artist he was.

And speaking of artists, I just want to say again publicly that Zak Farmer is a fucking genius. And totally, almost freakishly, easy to work with. We've found that we really can ask absolutely anything from him as an actor and singer; and yet I'm still so bowled over each time he creates some new, quirky, complex, deeply human character. The list of his roles is mind-blowing, and all of them have been richly detailed and so very honest, even in the wackiest contexts -- the 1950s-style sci-fi scientist Dr. Propsero in Return to the Forbidden Planet; the manic, damaged Charles Guiteau in Assassins, the asshole lover Proteus in Two Gentlemen of Verona; the walled-off, Gary-Cooper, Midwestern sheriff Merle Karnopp in Love Kills; the creepy Latin lover Augustin Magaldi in Evita; a closeted (?) priest in bare; a 1978 New Jersey diner owner in I Love My Wife, the wonderfully obnoxious Barry in High Fidelity...

And now, a really funny, really honest, really complicated Charles Bukowski, part real Bukowski, part musical comedy doppelganger. I've learned to mostly leave Zak alone in rehearsal, unless I see him really heading off in the wrong direction, which is rare. He always delivers. But it's not just that his acting is really great; it's also that he has an unerring sense of tone and style. He knows exactly how big, how broad, how meta a performance should be. He can do outrageous and he can do subtle, and every shade in between. I really don't do a whole lot more with him than edit a bit.

In addition to our brilliant performers and musicians, we're also very lucky at New Line to have some top-notch designers working with us. It's not for the big bucks (I wish!); it's the chance to work on amazing, one-of-a-kind pieces like Bukowsical. Ken Zinkl nailed the look with his lights, very bright and sunny, and nice and weird for the more conceptual stuff. Scott Schoonover gave us a set with bright and happy in back, vaguely obscene silhouettes of girls painted on the grass-green floor, and a bar in the middle of the stage, dominating everything. Sex, booze, and Los Angeles. That's our hero. It broke my heart to tear that set apart. The bar had given me the idea to turn the narrator into a bartender, which really gave the show some further thematic unity and gave Joel as our narrator some fun reality to play. And Amy Kelly created the coolest costumes -- all of them very specific to period and character but also all of them in freakishly bright, musical comedy colors. And it really worked. Sort of like if Disney had animated Bukowski's life.

As I write this, I wonder if I like this show so much precisely because it's the most ironic musical ever written. You can't really take anything in the show at face value. It makes Sondheim look like Hammerstein. Just kidding!

And while I'm shouting out... Kerrie Mondy has joined New Line as our new resident sound designer, and she did really amazing work on Bukowsical. Eight body mics, combined with eight sweaty actors running around like madmen for seventy-six minutes straight. You do the math. We should've given her combat pay. And a big welcome to Kim Avants, our new box office manager, who may be one of the nicest, friendliest people I've ever met. And Zany Clark, who appears onstage with us from time to time (Jesus Christ Superstar, Assassins, Cabaret, Anyone Can Whistle), and also weirdly, ends up running lights for us once every few years, as he did for Bukowsical.

This was such a wonderful experience. We didn't have big houses and we may end the season a bit in the hole (not for the first time), but it was so worth it. There's nothing cooler in the world than smart, fearless theatre, and we've been swimming in it lately -- bare, Passing Strange, Cry-Baby, High Fidelity, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Next to Normal, Bukowsical, and coming next season, Night of the Living Dead, Rent, and Hands on a Hardbody. I got an advanced copy of the Hardbody cast album, and I am in love with it. Next season is gonna kick some damn ass.

It's now almost 5:00 a.m., and in case you're wondering, yes, I do realize how very lucky I am. It's pretty great.

Long Live the Musical!
Scott

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