Is immortality worth dying for? Opera Philadelphia and the Bearded Ladies put on ANDY: A Popera

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[Catch the last two showings of ANDY: A Popera tonight and tomorrow at the Wilma Theater! Donald reviews this energetic homage to Andy Warhol. — the artblog editors]

Everything Andy Warhol ever laid his hands on just screams to be made into an opera. This legendary artist’s operatic potential has finally been realized by Opera Philadelphia in a partnership with the Bearded Ladies Cabaret Company–an experimental cabaret group devoted to exploiting all the possibilities of intimate, homemade theater through beautiful songs, tricked-out costume changes, drag, and virtuosic prop construction. The Bearded Ladies’ taste in putting on a show would please Andy Warhol a great deal, which is why this collaboration shows exciting promise.

Pop Art, music, and theatrics

popera
Photo courtesy of the Bearded Ladies Cabaret Company.

Where June’s East Coast premiere of A Coffin In Egypt melded opera and theater together, ANDY: A Popera conjoins opera and pop music into an up-close and personal cabaret show, with original music by resident composer Heath Allen at the Wilma Theater.

Stage 1 of ANDY was a series of “pop-up” performances in various parts of Philadelphia. Stage 2 combines these performances into a cabaret show that centers on Dr. Peter P. Never, an acclaimed Andy Warhol expert giving a lecture called “I’ll Be YOUR Mirror” for the art history department at East North Dakota State University. The neurotic-to-the-max Dr. Never (portrayed by Sean Lally) has a huge box of Warhol memorabilia, which serve as the structure for ANDY. The memorabilia represent the many art subjects Warhol used, including Marilyn Monroe, Campbell soup, and Elvis Presley. Each subject that played a key role in Warhol’s artistic life is portrayed by one of the Bearded Ladies.

popera 2
Photo courtesy of the Bearded Ladies Cabaret Company.

Midway through the show, we meet radical feminist Valerie Solanas (played by Jennifer Kidwell), who had attempted to assassinate Warhol back in 1968. Kidwell steals the show as Solanas, with aggressive snarls aimed at Dr. Never and the audience. Though Solanas comes across as a bit of a bully, Kidwell manages to make her character sympathetic when she defends her decision to try to kill Warhol.

There are several visually striking images by Warhol recreated on stage, but none more so than the show’s recreation of the famous Marilyn Monroe painting, with the four Marilyns singing the iconic “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Dr. Never keeps asking the same question: “Why was Andy Warhol so big”? Three of the Marilyns respond with “Nothing,” and the remaining Marilyn says, “Chanel No. 5”.

An entertaining show for those in the know

Being that this is a Pop Art opera (or artpop, if you’re Lady Gaga), there are numerous pop culture/music and opera references sprinkled in. During the Soup Can theme song (in reference to Warhol’s Campbell soup painting), unseen actors with only their hands visible use an open soup can to mouth the words to famous opera arias; the most recognizable is the lustful “Habanera” from Bizet’s Carmen. Of all of the opera singers during the 1950s and 60s, Maria Callas fascinated Warhol the most, and Carmen was one of Callas’ signature roles.

popera 1
Photo courtesy of the Bearded Ladies Cabaret Company.

Dr. Never breaks the fourth wall several times throughout the evening and addresses the sold-out audience as scholars and administrators. A great example of this fourth wall breaking is when Dr. Never moans on and on about how the Wilma Theater hasn’t been funding his lectures as desired. Supporting Dr. Never are four sunglass-laden graduate students in the form of SATB (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass), who provide added eccentricity and wit. One of the highlights is the graduate students singing in unison, “An artist is someone who makes things people don’t need.” That’s a funny but true statement, if there ever was one.

Stage 2 of ANDY definitely has the vibe of a cabaret show, but in order for it to also be an opera, it needs to develop some cohesiveness as it transitions through each scene. Stage 3 is to be the final stage of the piece that premieres in March 2015; the piece will then “end in silver,” according to the Bearded Ladies. Stage 3 will hopefully represent a work that is more complete instead of what is currently a Saturday Night Live: Andy Warhol Edition with Dr. Peter P. Nevers as the host.

 

Performances of ANDY: A Popera run until July 27, 2014 at the Wilma Theater. For more information, please visit www.wilmatheater.org/bearded-ladies-cabaret.

Tags

andy warhol, andy: a popera, bearded ladies cabaret, jennifer kidwell, opera philadelphia, philadelphia, theater, wilma theater

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