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REVIEW: World War times unfurl in ‘The Blue Flower’

blueflower111011_optAmbitious new musical chronicles a European past with an American flavor

BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW

Opening on Wednesday at Second Stage, “The Blue Flower” is a curious musical hybrid of early 20th century European sorrows (bohemian style) and a rather fetching score that sounds not so much like the grand Old World as the Grand Old Opry in its bluegrass colorings.

Throw in a large constructivist setting, artsy home movies and documentary clips, interludes of Dada doings, snatches of Esperanto-like lingo, both World Wars, a romantic quadrangle that includes a ghost, and the rise of the Nazi movement -- plus a 10-member orchestra -- and you’ve got one awfully busy production.

That would be okay if the musical’s well-worn social background of Belle Epoch Paris and Weimar-era Berlin were used to provide fresh insights into the past.

But no, “The Blue Flower” merely offers the melancholy agonies of Max (Marc Kudisch), a collage artist; Maria (Teal Wicks), a scientist; Hannah (Meghan McGeary), a Dada performer; and Franz (Sebastian Arcelus), another artist who dies in the first war but sticks around as a spirit through the second act.

This ambitious, elaborate, intermittently lovely but usually lugubrious musical is the offbeat creation of Jim Bauer (writer/composer/lyricist/orchestrator) and Ruth Bauer (artist/writer/videographer), who provide a picaresque story, a dense text, a lush score and nearly ceaseless video.

For all of the team’s painstaking detail in evoking various times and places in Europe, the sinuous, often restless music and its twanging orchestrations sound oddly Country & Western-style in flavor. Talk about continental drift -- this show might aptly be re-titled “The Bluegrass Flower.” blue2flower111011_opt

Assisted by Chase Brock’s eclectic choreography, director Will Pomerantz keeps this ponderous two and a half-hour affair in fluent motion around designer Beowulf Boritt’s three-level setting of raw lumber. Shades of blue (naturally) and contrasting magenta tint Donald Holder’s bold lighting. Ann Hould-Ward’s mostly black and white clothes span the eras. Although the video segments often distract attention from the actors, its grainy mix of real-life and fictional images is impressive.

Led by Kudisch’s brooding and darkly mellifluous Max, the eight-member ensemble acts and sings their roles well. But their talents are expended vainly upon a roster of unhappy characters whose sentimental journeys through the decades fail to engage much sympathy.

“The Blue Flower” continues through Nov. 27 at Second Stage, 305 W. 43rd St., New York. Call (212) 246-4422 or visit www.2ST.com.

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