Women (characters) are the stars of the show. Edie (Cristen Paige), Viva (Emily Swallow), Valerie (Leslie Kritzer) and the ultimate hostess Candy (Brian Charles Rooney) sing up a rock and roll storm for 100 intermission-less minutes. The blast of music occurs within Andy Warhol's Factory. Like everything else about this presentation, the depiction is made immediate through multi-level set design by Valerie Therese Bart. Mark Brokaw, directing, is actually facilitating the excitementwith the help of musical director Lynne Shankel and, perhaps, orchestrator Bruce Coughlin. Warhol, himself, is well represented by Randy Harrison. Rounding out the cast are Doug Kreeger as Ondine and Danny Binstock as Gerard.
The production is frenetic yet disciplined and includes many startling moments. The hook, theoretically, revolves around the question: Who shot Warhol? That is not what sustains the musical. Instead, such scenes as the simulated splashing of paint carry it forward. That depiction, accompanied by vocals, is of artists Jackson Pollock, Franz Klein and Robert Motherwell. "Superstar" allows Edie, Viva, Valerie and Candy to sing to the rafters.
While many numbers are quite spirited, it is the overall result of this show which is simply exhilaratingand evolutionary. The play began as a piece in development at Yale Institute for Music Theater. Coleman and Jacobs began working together when they were students at NYU's Graduate Musical Theater Writing program. Thus, they've collaborated, in a sense, for three or four years. Each architect of this musical is around thirty years of age, so they were not alive during the Warhol epoch. The dynamic show, however, feels most authentic.
It's a matter of various high energy components jelling. The band members themselves are positioned on different levelsframing each side of the stage. The willowy Swallow, pixie-like Paige, and seemingly shorter Kritzer each sing clearly and on pitch. It's the moments when they come together, though, sometimes with Rooney, which are undeniably agitated and enthusiastic. Denis Jones' creative movement also adds to the fun. Ying Song, the costumer, adds appropriate period wardrobe.
The gender-bending Pop! may be perceived as a sex, drugs and rock and roll musical evocative of the era described. It is super-charged from what feels like the opening bell and surely must be exhausting to perform. You don't really have to know anything about Warhol to appreciate the production. The songs are sufficiently pop and tuneful enough to please, yet the arrangements are not overly symmetrical. Thus, there is an original pulse throughout.
Oftentimes, a group of actors is called an ensemble. Pop! goes a step further; it feels as if everyone associated with it has become part of the ensemble. The individual parts are impressive but it's the cumulative product which might very well knock your socks off.
Pop! continues at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through December 19th. For tickets, call (203) 432-1234 or visit www.yalerep.org.
- Fred Sokol