DF Review — Andy Warhol: A Popera (Stage II) at the Wilma Theater (July 2014)

Andy Warhol: A Popera (Stage II) -- Photo by Kate Raines
Frequently, when I go to the opera, even though I recently turned 58, I feel like one of the younger, hipper people there.  (Note: It’s is how I feel – if I’m wrong, please don’t correct me.)

Of course, for me, this is good news.  For opera companies, trying to reach new audiences – not so much.

That’s why the Opera Philadelphia’s three-part experimental “popera” about Andy Warhol is such a brave and intriguing project.  Will it all work?  The jury is still out.   But on the evidence of Stage 2 – a smart and entertaining (if messy) cabaret evening, concocted by Philadelphia’s ultra-cool performance troupe, The Bearded Ladies – all signs are good.

And I’ll tell you this – I sure as hell was not one of the younger, hipper people at Friday night’s cheering, capacity-crowd show.

Andy: A Popera 2, now on stage (well, performing in the lobby) at the Wilma Theater, is part whimsical biography, part critical commentary.  Framed as a “lecture,” what emerges is a series of sketches and songs, grouped around iconic images and moments in Warhol’s life.  Some are funny (a group of Marilyns comes to life); some are heartrending (Candy Darling expires on stage).

Scott McPheeters as Candy Darling in Andy Warhol: A Popera (Stage 2)

Scott McPheeters as Candy Darling in Andy Warhol: A Popera (Stage 2)

As you might expect from a work that will ultimately become an opera, music figures prominantly.  The score incorporates pastiche, including songs by Lou Reed, Lana Del Rey and more, alongside striking original pieces by Heath Allen.

It’s a mixed bag, but always provocative and occasionally brilliant.  Director John Jarboe fills the stage with colorful images.  The entire ensemble is terrific, especially Jennifer Kidwell, who plays Valerie Solanas (that overused adjective “fierce” truly applies), and Liz Filios, infinitely touching as Warhol’s gentle mother.

AAP2 is a work in progress to be sure, yet even the show’s flaws – a too-loose structure that occasionally borders on incoherence; a certain overcalcuated sense of outrageouness – capture Warhol in a way that no conventional narrative could.  Ironically, I’m not sure it’s possible to “fix” it without breaking it.

How much of this material will be part of Stage 3 is still TBD.  But I sincerely hope that some of it remains, especially the rafter-rousing “Squishy Ass” number, brilliantly delivered by Kidwell, and a gorgeous song – an aria, really – called “Country of Women,” that in Filios’s astonishing performance ranks as one of the the most memorable moments I’ve had in the theatre in recent memory.

I urge you to attend and judge for yourselves – there are performances through July 27th.  It’s absolutely A Happening, and I’ll bet Andy would have adored it.


Andy Warhol: A Popera (Stage 2)
— The Bearded Ladies at the Wilma Theatre, 16-27 July.  http://www.wilmatheater.org/bearded-ladies-cabaret

 

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