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A CurtainUp Review
The Blue Flower

The poet Novalis first used the blue flower as symbol for the continuous search for artistic perfection. . .the simultaneous end to and beginning of all things. . .death and rebirth. . .reincarnation. . .and. . .a few other things.— Max, via a translator, during a lecture at City College.

This will never be the same again—Maria, in one of The Blue Flower's most poignant ballads, "Eiffel Tower."
The Blue Flower
Robert Petkoff and Nancy Anderson
(Photo: Tyler Kongslie)
A shoutout to the Prospect Theatre Company for giving New York musical theater lovers a chance to see The Blue Flower by the multi-talented husband wife team, Ruth and Jim Bauer This spectacularly inventive blend of gorgeous music, historical drama, and videography had a trial run at the 2004 The New York Music Theater Festival. I didn't see that production so I can't tell you what's been done to fine tune it in the intervening period, but I can recommend it whole-heartedly to anyone interested in musicals with a score that's new and edgy yet richly melodic, a fascinating story fitted into a highly theatrical environment—with a director and cast superbly attuned to the show's sensibility. Having seen another Prospect Theatre musical (Iron Curtain) that should have had a life after an all too brief run at this same small venue in an upper West Side church, I urge you not to wait for a transfer, but catch The Blue Flower while you can.

According to the authors' program notes, this ambitious project wasn't a case of musicalizing a particular story or, conversely, to create a story for music written by Jim Bauer. Instead, it was an attempt to combine their talents to "explore the narrative powers of sound and imagery" as a stage vehicle. Since the project's final form began with the music, let me begin my countdown of reasons why The Blue Flower is such an intellectually challenging, entertaining and genre defying musical.

As the show itself is an amalgam of fictionalized history with live and video staging, so the music manages to marry touches of twangy country western with the melancholy sound of Kurt Weill. Bauer doesn't write show tunes with catchy rhymed lyrics, but his music is definitely and hauntingly melodic and demands to be heard again. The 7-piece band, which includes an accordion and pedal steel guitar as well as cello, guitar and drums, infuses these seemingly incompatible styles with consistently pulsating energy and harmony. It's all very post-modern and of a piece with the whole Dada art movement (a sort of anti everything movement attempting to create something from the destruction World War I left in its wake) that flowered during the German Weimar period between the two European World Wars which the Bauers ended up choosing as the canvas for their libretto.

To chronicle this period the Bauers decided to create four fictional characters based on real persons from that period, and putting together their individual stories and their connection as friends and lovers like a collage by well-known Dada artist, Kurt Schwitters. The key figure in this quartet is Max Baumann. Patterned on the successful real-life German artist and emigre to the United States, Max Beckmann, brought to richly nuanced life by Marcus Neville. Neville's gestures accompanying his lectures in " Maxperanto," an invented language with a vaguely familiar ueber-East European flavor is hilarious and a bit reminiscent of the pseudo-German shtick Sid Caesar used do in the Show of Shows on TV.

Under Pomerantz's direction, the pieces of the collage are put together with great style. And while the story segues back and forth, from the starting point that finds Baumann leafing through a scrapbook of his work (and life) on a park bench in Central Park circa 1955, you're never confused as to where in the story of these ghostly figures you are. The filmed accompaniment to the live interchanges clarifies and enhances the story of Max's meeting and friendship with Franz (Robert Petkoff), another artist; Maria (Nancy Anderson) a Marie Curie like scientist who becomes Franz's lover; and Hannah (Megan McGeary), a dada-ish cabaret artist and his lover.

The filmed segments of the events before and during the first World War are a superbly funny-sad sum-up of the utter pointlessness and futility of a conflict that killed millions. As Nancy Anderson's Maria plaintively sings in the show's most poignant and memorable ballad, "Eiffel Tower," that war meant that for her and her friends "things will never the same."

To add to the edgy feel and unify the many pieces of the collage, there's a somewhat mysterious man in a bowler hat, identified in the cast list as the Fairy Tale Man and played with authorative panache by Jamie LaVerdiere. While the entire cast as well as the band deserve a hearty round of applause, Anderson with whose work I'm most familiar, is a vocal and acting standout who seems long overdue for a major role on Broadway.

Having heard Anderson her sing without amplification at Scott Siegel's "Unplugged" concerts at a much larger venue (the Town Hall), brings me to my one major problem with this production. It seems almost ludicrous to see someone with Anderson's pipes wearing a head mike in this living room sized space. If the band were positioned at the rear and above the audience, it wouldn't tend to be so close to the actors that some sort of amplification is necessary. At minimum, if little button mikes had been used, at least the miking wouldn't be so visually intrusive. Fortunately, even the head mikes don't take enough away from the pleasure of happening across something as unique as this show.

To sample some of the music, including the above mentioned "Eiffel Tower" check out —but better still, get a ticket and hear Nancy Anderson sing it.

Music, lyrics, script & videography by Jim Bauer
Artwork, story & videography by Ruth Bauer
Direction & choreography by Will Pomerantz
Cast: Nancy Anderson (Maria), Jason Collins (Sewing Machine Man), Jamie LaVerdiere (Fairy Tale Man), Meghan McGeary (Hannah), Marcus Neville (Max), Robert Petkoff (Franz), Eric Starker (Typewriter Man),
Directed by Will Pomerantz
Choreographed by Chase Brock

Environmental Artist: Bert Esenherz
Set Designer: Nick Francone
Costume Designer: Sidney Shannon
Lighting Designer: Cory Pattak
Sound Designer: Jeffrey Yoshi Lee
Music Director: Max Rubinstein
Band: Accordion, Benjamin Ickies (at select performances, Carl Riehl); Bass, Alden Terry; Cello , Katsura Mori; )Bassoon, Eric Holtje (at select performances, Shotaro Mori)l Guitar , Jeffrey Widenhofer; Drums , Patrick Carmichael; Pedal Steel Guitar, John Widgren
Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, including one intermission.
PropspectTheater Company with Flying Machine Productions at the West End Theatre 263 West 86th Street (212) 352-3101
From 3/02/08; opening ; closing 3/02/08.
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8PM with matinee performances on Sundays at 3PM with additional performances on Sunday, Feburary 3 at 7PM , Monday, February 4 at 8PM, Wednesdays February 20 and 27 at 8PM, and Saturday, March 1 at 3PM.
Ticket prices are $20 for adults and $16 for students.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer 2/10/08
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Wild Horse Dancing / Franz, Max
  • Paris Trio/ Max, Franz, Maria, Fairytale Man
  • Love/ Franz, Maria
  • Puke/ Hannah, Sewing Machine Man,Typewriter Man
  • Fancy This/ Hannah, Max
  • Eyes and Bones/ Max, Hannah
  • Franz's War /Franz, The Company
  • Eiffel Tower/Mariah
  • No Place But Up /The Company
Act Two
  • Not a Flaw /Max, Hannah
  • Dark Party /Max, Hannah
  • Slide `through Your Hands/ Maria, Max
  • Master This / Hannah
  • Pro Patria Mori/Hannah, Sewing Machine Man, Typewriter Man
  • Heaven/ Franz
  • Wild Horse Reprise / Franz, Max
  • Angels on the Lever/Hannah,Max
Try for great seats to
Jersey Boys
The Little Mermaid
Lion King
Shrek The Musical

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The Playbill Broadway YearBook

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
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