An Overstuffed Bouquet

Written by Mark Peikert on . Posted in Posts, Theater.

Well, The Blue Flower tries like hell. A weirdly country-tinged Weimar-era musical about two men and two women that bombards us with narration, elaborate song sequences and impressionistic film clips, the original two-act from Jim and Ruth Bauer skitters back and forth in time and place, leaving audiences mostly perplexed.

So loosely based on real
artists and Marie Curie as to not matter, The Blue Flower starts off as War Horse before switching to Cabaret in the second. Greeting World War I with open arms,
collagist Max (Marc Kudisch) joins up as a medic with a newspaper column
detailing the sure-to-be brief skirmish. His best friend Franc (Sebastian
Arcelus), obsessed with Westerns and horses, is eager to sign on for the
cavalry. He leaves behind the determined scientist Maria (Teal Wicks), as
dedicated to science, we’re told, as to the pleasures of the flesh. Max is also
in love with her, but finds comfort with Dadaist Hannah (Meghan McGeary),
before World War I does what it does and leaves Maria broken hearted and Max

The second act mostly treads
water, as we’re treated to the excesses of Berlin in the 1920s, complete with a
gang rape sequence that falls short of what Susan Stroman contributed to Thou
Shalt Not
in 2001. The eventual
ending, with the Nazis encroaching and the artistic integrity of Max and Greta
in jeopardy, is perhaps the most conventional aspect of this determinedly
bizarre production. Max, after all, sometimes speaks in a language of his own
creation, delivering an entire lecture in it to a New Braunfels, Texas,
audience during the 1950s. (That scene will not be on the final exam, so don’t
feel pressure to pay much attention.)

The Bauers have jammed lots
of history into their musical, but they’ve forgotten to contribute characters
with whom to sympathize. The narrator continually reminds us that Max and Franz
are best friends, but we’re only shown the two men backslapping one another and
laughing over steins. The romance between Maria and Franz is likewise indicated
more than played out, leaving a large void where the show’s heart should be.

Choreographer Chase Brock
seems at a loss with this odd material (his scenes of Dadaist performances look
like jazzercise routines); director Will Pomerantz at least keeps the large
cast moving around Beowulf Boritt’s flimsy-looking set, though he can’t come up
with enough reasons to use its upper third level.

Kudisch is his usual
velvety-voiced self, here edging the velvet with steel and handling the
segments in Maxperanto with aplomb. But it’s McGeary as Greta who seems most at
home with the material. Wearing a severe bob and navigating the sudden key
changes in her songs with suitable intensity, she’s reminiscent of a young
Lotte Lenya, which is both a compliment to her performance and a knock against
the show: After allowing audiences time to think about The Blue Flower’s similarities to War Horse and Cabaret, the last thing the Bauers need is to let our minds wander back to
Donna Murphy’s performance as Lenya in LoveMusik. And given the frequent dull patches throughout this
overly long, overly stuffed and overly ambitious new musical, we’re left with
plenty of time to reminisce about all the other plays and musicals that trod
this territory with more finesse.

The Blue Flower

Through Nov. 27, Second
Stage Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St. (at 8th Ave.),; $80.