If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

“POP” MUSICAL PREMIERES AT YALE

Excitement is on the boards at the Yale Repertory Theatre where “Pop”, a thoroughly engaging new musical based on an episode in the life of artist/icon Andy Warhol, is currently enjoying its world premiere.  This clever take on the minor “mystery” of who shot Mr. Warhol in 1968 (wounds from which he eventually did recover), is the basis for this energetic romp in New Haven.

“Pop” is the brainchild of young artists Maggie-Kate Coleman (book and lyrics) and Anna K. Jacobs (music) who, in collaboration with director Mark Brokaw, explore the shooting of Warhol by radical feminist Valerie Solanas (Leslie Kritzer).   Ms. Solanas, who fronted her own organization called SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men), apparently became unhinged when Warhol accepted a script she wrote and then proceeded to lose it.  Solanas returned with a gun and quickly garnered her own 15 minutes of dubious fame. 

Actually, the whodunit aspect of “Pop” – which is narrated by Warhol celebrity transsexual Candy Darling (an astonishing Brian Charles Rooney) – is mostly half-hearted.  It presents potential other “suspects” from the Warhol factory - pill-popper “Pope” Ondine (Doug Kreeger) and jack-of-all-trades Gerard Malanga (Danny Binstock) - and then proceeds to run off in various directions as other Warhol hanger-ons and sycophants emerge from their reefer haze with stories to share.

The remarkable cast of seven at Yale plays like 70 as multiple roles are tackled with relish.  The central figure of Warhol, who nearly becomes a cipher amidst the colorful flock, is played with dry wit by a blasé Randy Harrison.  The actor projects a marvelously vague sangfroid that works perfectly for the character and his singing is sweet and unforced.

Other standouts in the cast include Emily Swallow as Viva, the vivacious actress in several of Warhol’s underground films and Cristen Paige, as poor little rich girl Edie Sedgwick.  The women are joined by Ms. Kritzer – who proves a pint-size powerhouse as the deranged Solanas – for “Superstar”, a terrific diva number that arrives late in the musical.  In addition, Ms. Paige is seriously hilarious as a sort of perverse Shirley Temple singing about her privileged upbringing in “Racist Doll Songlets”.  The music comes fast and furious in the production (performed without intermission), but even at only 100 minutes, Ms. Coleman might consider some careful trimming of the book.  There is some evident sagging at the half-way point and the “mystery” aspect of the show goes on too long.

Valerie Therese Bart’s scenic design expertly captures the “factory” feel, Ying Song’s pop-art costuming is a visual delight and the numerous projections by Tal Yarden are a fabulous show within themselves.  Musical director Lynne Shankel also performs wonders with an on-stage band of six.  “Pop” is loud, raucous and lots of (adult) fun.  With some more tinkering and fine-tuning, it could fill the void left by “Rent”.  Is Broadway listening?

“Pop” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre through December 19th.  For further information and ticket reservations call the box office at 203.432.1234 or visit their website at:  www.yalerep.org.

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company.  He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

This review appeared in Elm City Newspapers beginning on 12.16.09


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