Tuesday, June 4, 2013

BUKOWSICAL • New Line Theatre

New Line closes its 22nd season with Bukowsical, another wonderfully executed regional premiere.  Charles Bukowski, an American German-born poet, short story writer and novelist, was considered the "godfather" of a North American literary movement called Dirty Realism – a style that described in plain language the seedy lives of ordinary people and the drudgery of the everyday.  He wrote for the dispossessed.  Railing against the social conventions of the time, he gained some notoriety in the 70's for the profanity-laden honesty in his autobiographical fiction.  Bukowski didn't shy away from odious topics like whoring, boozing, gambling and violence.  That was his world, and he held nothing back.  He achieved cult figure status for awhile and was dubbed a "laureate of American lowlife" by Time magazine.  The Sacred Fools Theatre in Bukowski’s hometown of Los Angeles gave Bukowsical its first showing in 2006.

(front, l-r) Kimi Short, Chrissy Young, Marcy Wiegert,
(middle) Nicholas Kelly, Joel Hackbarth, Christopher Strawhun
(back) Ryan Foizey and Zachary Allen Farmer.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
We begin with our narrator (Joel Hackbarth) introducing us to Charles Bukowski (Zachary Allen Farmer).  The opening number pretty much signals the audience to buckle up with lyrics like, "What’s the feeling you get / When you’re down on your luck / And you’re too drunk to fuck? / Bukowsical!".  This vulgar rollick looks at a succession of pivotal moments in Bukowski's life.  We see the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and the ridicule aimed at him from his schoolmates -- parts of his childhood that the real-life Charles Bukowski referred to as his "literary training".  There's also the moment he met "Sweet Lady Booze" (Marcy Wiegert), and his writing lesson visit from Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, William Burroughs and Sylvia Plath, who advise him to "Get Dirty".

Zachary Allen Farmer (Charles Bukowski)
and Marcy Wiegert (Sweet Lady Booze).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Bukowsical is a musical tailor-made for director Scott Miller and his consistently solid cast of New Liners.  The perfectly cast Farmer personifies Bukowski with honesty and understanding, a perfectly crude exterior, and an impressive voice.  Short doesn't hold back as Bukowski's drunken love interest, and is not only hilarious, but strong voiced in her songs, "Chaser of my Heart" and "Remember Me".  Joel Hackbarth makes an amiable narrator, nicely filling in for other characters as well.  The rest of the ensemble is rounded out by Ryan Foizey, Nicholas Kelly, Christopher Strawhun, Marcy Wiegert and Chrissy Young.  They all do a very fine job characterizing various roles with gusto, and they sound wonderful together.

Kimi Short (One True Love)
and Zachary Allen Farmer (Charles Bukowski).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Scott L. Schoonover's set consists of a bar, of course, and a table, chair and typewriter where Bukowski does his writing, all illuminated by Kenneth Zinkl's lighting design.  Amy Kelly provides the vibrant costumes, and Robin Michelle Berger’s choreography is top-notch.  Kerrie Mondy provides the sound -- all of the ensemble members are clearly heard and balanced well with the band, and under Justin Smolik's musical direction, the musicians are tight and sound fantastic.

This musical not only sheds considerable light on what went into making Charles Bukowski the artist he was (I watched a documentary -- the show is fairly accurate), it also satirizes the conventions of musical theatre.  It defies tradition by packaging foul lyrics about slimy behavior in these irresistibly tuneful, upbeat little songs.  Under Miller's clear-sighted direction, the entire cast passionately embrace all kick-lines, key changes, and every instance of "jazz hands".  Seeing these supposedly contradictory elements combined with such enthusiasm is what makes it so funny.  The profanity may offend your sensibilities, but with everything else this show has to offer, I bet you'll get over it after about 4 minutes.  Check it out!  It's playing until the 22nd.

Nicholas Kelly (William Faulkner), Joel Hackbarth (Tennessee Williams),
Christopher Strawhun (William S. Burroughs)
and Chrissy Young (Sylvia Plath).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Book/lyrics by Spencer Green and Gary Stockdale
Music by Gary Stockdale
Directed by Scott Miller
Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
through June 22 | tickets: $10 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm

Zachary Allen Farmer (Charles Bukowski), Joel Hackbarth (Narrator/Father/Tennessee Williams), Ryan Foizey (Bishop Fulton Sheen/ Mickey Rourke), Nicholas Kelly (William Faulkner/ Barbet Schroeder), Kimi Short (One True Love), Christopher Strawhun (William Burroughs/ Sean Penn/Swifty Lazar), Marcy Wiegert (Sweet Lady Booze) and Chrissy Young (Teacher/Sylvia Plath).

Music direction by Justin Smolik; choreography by Robin Michelle Berger; scenic design by Scott L. Schoonover; sound design by Kerrie Mondy; costume design by Amy Kelly; lighting design by Kenneth Zinkl, stage manager, Gabe Taylor.

The New Line Band:
Piano/conductor, Justin Smolik; guitar, D. Mike Bauer; bass, Dave Hall; percussion, Clancy Newell.

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