BWW Reviews: New Line Theatre's Hilarious Production of BUKOWSICAL
Scatological, unpredictable, and oddly whimsical at times, Bukowsical is not easily defined or categorized, and that's actually part of its appeal to me. Spencer Green (book, lyrics) and Gary Stockdale (book,lyrics and music) have concocted an interesting musical stew, some of which details the life and times of writer Charles Bukowski, and some of which seems to be skewering the entire idea altogether. For instance, the man himself doesn't bring to mind anything remotely resembling a warm and fuzzy character, and yet the music for this piece is incredibly sunny and upbeat. This makes for a fascinating juxtaposition between the lyrical content and the music that accompanies it. In fact, the words are often graphic and vulgar, but, at times, they're also surprisingly erudite and witty. These contradictions alone act to sum up Bukowski's complicated existence and ultimate status as a wordsmith. New Line Theatre's production captures this drunken genius in all his splendor. You may be shocked by what you see or hear, but I guarantee you won't forget it. This is cutting edge theatre at its finest.
Acting as both a semi-biography of the man, Charles Bukowski, but also as a poke at the very thought of staging a musical on him as the subject matter, the plot bounces back in forth between fever dream reenactments of important moments in his life, and it's a wild ride indeed. At one point, some of his literary contemporaries (Plath, Faulkner, Burroughs and Tennessee Williams) sing "Get Dirty", suggesting that the key to his success lay in his ability to write the kind of psycho-sexual prose that they've all dabbled with in order to gain an audience for their work. Bukowski may end up riding "The Derelict Trail" in the end, but he also crafts an outsider classic with his screenplay for "Barfly".
Zachary Allen Farmer excels as Bukowski, deftly capturing the drunken passion and depths of depravity that existed in his life. Farmer also possesses amazing physicality and a soulful voice, and both add to his larger than life portrayal. Joel Hackbarth amuses as the Narrator, instructing and participating in the story. Ryan Folzey is especially funny as Bishop Fulton Sheen, a fixture of the period, but largely forgotten these days. Kimi Short brings her own inebriated infatuations to the role of One True Love, blithely hanging on to a partner that share little interest in her. Marcy Weigert is a scream as Sweet Lady Booze, enthusiastically seducing Bukowski into a lifetime of brilliant highs and unfathomable lows with the lure of liquid death. Chrissy Young, Nicholas Kelly, and Christopher Strawhun are also memorable in various guises.
Scott Miller's inspired direction keeps the pace hopping in this 75-minute excursion into insanity. Choreographer Robin Michelle Berger adds to the madness with playful movement, and Scott L. Schoonover contributes the sparse, but effective, scenic design. Kenneth Zinkl's lighting echoes the opposing forces of giddy happiness and stark reality that inhabits the work, and Amy Kelly's costume design seems to be fine fits for each of the characters. Justin Smolik's (piano) music direction is superb and D. Mike Bauer (guitar), Dave Hall (bass), and Clancy Newell (percussion) make a tight ensemble.
Bukowsical is a rude, crude, raucous, offensive and delicious musical that treads the line between biography and satire. New Line Theatre's production (playing through June 22, 2013) is an absolute blast. Go see it immediately!
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg