The Blue Flower

  • Our critic's rating:
    November 1, 2011

    (Review by Tulis McCall)

    This is a musical about WWI, and to a lesser extent WWII, and the tumult of the youngish people, mainly artists and scientists, but there are other riff-raff represented as well, who lived through it. Sound familiar anyone? Sound like Three Penny Opera?

    Throughout the two long acts I got the feeling that there was a real musical dying to break out of its confines. Alas for us, it never did.

    We begin in 1955 where Max Beckman (Marc Kudisch) is living out the sad end of his life adding pages to a collage that no one will ever see. He speaks only in Maxperanto, a language that emerged out of him due to the trauma of the war. On this afternoon, Max dies and is taken on a trip through his extraordinary past. Max was born in 1884, the year that the Eiffel Tower was completed. By the time he was in his 20’s she was a well-known artist. By the time he was 30, WWI was breaking Europe into pieces.

    His closest friend and fellow artist was Franz Marc (Sebastian Arcelus), and together they influenced the world of German Expressionist painting that lead to the Degenerate Art movement of WWII. As a team they met Maria – Marie Curie – (Teal Wicks) who was to fall for Franz, leaving Max permanently bummed out for life. When Franz leaves for WWI as a Cavalry Officer, Marie is frantic and asks Max to stop Franz. He doesn’t, and therein lies the deed for which he will never be forgiven. Meanwhile, Hannah Hoch (Meghan McGeary), who was a photo artist and dissident, is added to the mix. She goes to the front with Max as a volunteer medic. Hannah and Max “survive”. Franz does not.

    Those are pretty much the facts of this story. And facts are pretty much all you get. This is a musical narrative as opposed to being a play. We watch these characters zip to and fro without a nod, much like the unnecessary and poorly executed movie upstage that serves to tell us where we are in case we have forgotten. These people never connect with us and barely connect with one another as they move from scene to scene and sing what must be the most atonal score I have ever heard. With the exception of the beautiful number that features Franz and Marie writing letters to one another, the music is difficult to understand and dulling to the senses. The only exception would be the few bars cribbed directly from Mac the Knife.

    The team of Bauer and Bauer never find the heart of their story. They cannot decide if they prefer fact or fiction and take such liberties with the real stories of these four people that once the horse is out of the barn it never returns. The poor beast wanders the fields of war for decades, and in the end collapses in a heap, out of steam and out of story.

    None of the disappointment of this production can be laid at the actors’ feet. Arcelus, Kudish, McGeary and Teale are extraordinary performers whose voices are transcendent and whose acting skills match their voices. As well, the “chorus” of supporting players is exceptional in every way. Even the orchestration and the orchestra itself, containing the unusual combination of guitars, cello and accordion is exquisite.

    That these extraordinary actors and musicians cannot make The Blue Flower work is a testament to how completely this book and score fails.

    The Blue Flower makes WWI seem brief. And in a final odd touch, the authors write that Max dies in 1955. He died in 1950. So I guess you could say this show went over by about five years.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "High-minded muddle of a musical."
    Charles Isherwood for New York Times

    "Strangely flat and uninvolving."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "This "Flower" blooms with a haunting beauty."
    Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

    "Ambitious, elaborate, intermittently lovely but usually lugubrious musical."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    "A musical theater piece as rare and provocative as a blue flower."
    Steven Suskin for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Post - Back Stage - Newsroom Jersey - Variety