The Blue Flower
The project had humble beginnings in 1999 when Jim Bauer wrote the music for a live band to play over a silent film, but gradually evolved into a theatrical piece as it wended its way through a Public Theater festival at Joe's Pub, an ASCAP workshop and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. In 2008, it attracted the attention and support of Stephen Schwartz, the renowned composer/lyricist of Broadway musicals including Wicked, Godspell and Pippin, who brought it to ART artistic director Diane Paulus.
Set primarily in Germany, The Blue Flower time-travels back and forth between Paris, Berlin and the United States during the Belle Époque, World War I, the rule of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Nazi Party, concluding in 1955. Video projections help to time and date stamp some of the scenes, but I often found it difficult to discern where or when something was happening with all of the flashbacks and leaps ahead to the future. In addition, characters die or disappear, then magically reappear as ghosts or memories, furthering the confusion.
The major characters are three artists and a scientist inspired by real-life artists Max Beckmann, Franz Marc, Hannah Höch and Nobel Prize-winner Marie Curie. Max (Daniel Jenkins) and Franz (Lucas Kavner) meet at art school where they become best friends and fall under the influence of the Dada and Surrealism art movements. Both men also fall under the influence of Maria (Teal Wicks), but she chooses Franz, setting up an underlying rivalry and unrequited longing that informs the rest of Max's life, even when he gets involved with Hannah (Meghan McGeary).
Among them, the foursome experiences great love and great heartache, professional acclaim and denigration, the wild abandon of free expression, and the horrors of war and oppression. Yet, with all of those dramatic events, it is impossible to feel any connection to these characters as written. The events and their staging take precedence over the people and they come across as flat and mechanical.
The cast excels at vocals and I think highly of Jim Bauer's compositions, an unusual blend of Kurt Weill and country twang that burst with interesting orchestration and instrumentation. For example, "Wild Horse Dancing" has a syncopated theme that features the bassoon and is picked up and varied by the other instruments. However, with the exception of "Eiffel Tower," Maria's sorrowful close to act one, beautiful songs delivered by bloodless characters failed to move me.
Director Will Pomerantz has been involved with the Bauers and The Blue Flower since a chance meeting with Jim in Greenwich Village in 2001. He directed the 2003 ASCAP workshop, as well as the 2008 Prospect Theater Company showcase in New York. The Loeb provides a good-sized playground for Pomerantz and Movement Director Tom Nelis, who also appears in the show. There isn't much actual dancing, but the musical numbers are choreographed to make good use of the stage and set pieces.
Marsha Ginsberg's design is visually intriguing, offering total immersion with the set extending to the entry into the auditorium, the faux Cabaret Voltaire standing in for the concessions area and the related art exhibition in the lobby. The other design elements (Justin Townsend, lighting; Clive Goodwin, sound; and Carol Bailey, costume) are stimulating as well, and the presence of the seven musicians with Music Director/pianist Mark Rubinstein on the far side of the stage provides a much needed dynamism.
The ubiquitous blue flower was a symbol used by 18th and 19th century German romantic poets to represent the search for artistic perfection, and later came to symbolize reincarnation or the hope that humanity might do things a little less badly the next time around. As a representation for the play, which has been through numerous reincarnations, there may be hope for The Blue Flower if its creators can retain its mood and its music, but resolve to tell a story that is more about the characters and their art than the exploding world which they inhabit.
Performances through January 8, 2011, at Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA; Box Office 617-547-8300 or www.americanrepertorytheater.org.
The Blue Flower, Music, Lyrics, Script and Videography by Jim Bauer; Artwork, Story and Videography by Ruth Bauer; Directed by Will Pomerantz; Movement Director, Tom Nelis; Set Design, Marsha Ginsberg; Costume Design, Carol Bailey; Lighting Design, Justin Townsend; Sound Design, Clive Goodwin; Music Director, Mark Rubinstein; Vocal Music Directors, Charles Peltz and Dan Rodriguez; Stage Manager, Katherine Shea
Cast: Daniel Jenkins, Max; Meghan McGeary, Hannah; Tom Nelis, Fairytale Man; Lucas Kavner, Franz; Teal Wicks, Maria; Conner Christiansen, Typewriter Man; Paul Shafer, Sewing Machine Man