Monday, May 14, 2012

Theatre review: "Pop!" at City Theatre.

City Theatre has a fascinating, colorful, musically appealing production looking at wacky aspects of show business fostered by home town artist/celebrity Andy Warhol. It’s called Pop! a double-barreled reference to that superstar of Pop Art and to gun-shots which altered Warhol’s life after nearly taking it away altogether.

Anna K. Jacobs has written some really good music for this 2009-debuter. She calls forth an attractive array of styles: rock, folk, opera, church services, Asian and other ethnicities, all dovetailing with what the characters are doing and the specifics of Maggie–Kate Coleman’s lyrics. Jacobs also evokes minimalist music, perfectly suiting the seeming simplicity of Pop Art. And she aptly suggests slashes of 12-tone scores in cartoonish versions of Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

Everyone in the cast sings all of that to perfection especially Pittsburgh’s Bria Walker as Warhol celeb Viva. Meanwhile the Douglas Levine-led multi-instrumental sextet plays everything equally well.

Coleman’s book frames multi-level portraits. In the center is the day in 1968 when Valerie Solanas pulled the trigger. Spinning off from that, Warhol seemingly ponders not the whodunit by the whydunit as a few members of his then-circle circle the premises and, moth-like, flitter in the shadows of the past. Yet, Coleman most often makes Warhol less of an analytic thinker and more a babbling source of banalities, as bland as a can of Campbell’s soup. Just add water.

You might read into this script comments about both Pop Art and Warhol, i.e vapidity trumps substance, especially given the seemingly spot-on interpretation by Anthony Rapp as Andy, epitomized by his response to being shot as the uninflected “ouch.” Yet, comedy does not appear to be the goal. Satire, perhaps. Given the characters in this depiction of The Factory you might be looking for such depth. But why expect that, given that they weren’t models of profundity? Or at least that’s how Coleman makes them look and sound. The real people, though, certainly didn’t have the performing abilities this version of them requires.

The fascination rather comes from watching such over-the-toppers cherishing their celebrity as if that were talent. The real talent comes from what the performers do with the roles. And, as trans-sexual Candy Darling, Brian Charles Rooney steals the show, never overplaying, exuding genuine glamour and impressive versatility, donning other personas such as Walter Cronkite, Andy’s babushka mom and an art critic paper puppet. Director Brad Rouse and his designers Anne Mundell and Susan Tsu not only came up with that device but also with a great depiction of the above-named New York School painters, ready to splatter the walls with the likes of Warhol. The stage is alive with sights fantastic.

Much is made of paper bags in this concept, flimsy items into which you could put anything, as Warhol explains, pointing out that, equally, they could contain nothing. So too could you read into this show that it fills up emptiness with such color and good music that you may come away wanting more. Wanting to know more. Wanting to know how and why such freaks were taken seriously. Wanting to know, really, who Andy was behind that mask of indifference. Or was it a mask?

Pop! continues through May 27th at City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, South Side. 412/431.CITY (2489)

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