Danny Binstock, Randy Harrison, Doug Kreeger, Leslie Kritzer, Cristen Paige, Brian Charles Rooney, Emily Swallow
As new musicals go POP!, the new show about Andy Warhol currently playing at Yale Rep, is a doozy. Clocking in at under two hours and focusing on the attempted assassination of the pop art icon, the show – in the vein of many a great concept musical – meanders occasionally but entertains consistently, picking up bits and pieces of various theatrical forms along the way much in the same way that Warhol appropriated subjects, ultimately making for a satisfying convergence of form and subject matter.
The show begins with a little ditty for the character of Andy Warhol entitled Paper Bag, which encompasses the evening’s biggest theme – that the theoretical emptiness of a bag does indeed create possibility, but also that a void is not easily or comfortably filled without hard-won effort on the part of the bag’s owner (namely Warhol).
The entirety of the show takes place within the confines of Andy Warhol’s New York City studio, the Factory, which, in the 1960s was home to Warhol’s collective of artists, a bunch of hippie types who collaborated on various art and film projects. Following the shooting of Warhol, the artist’s band of followers assemble in an attempt to solve the mystery. Transsexual actress Candy Darling (a radiant Brian Charles Rooney) serves as narrator of the proceedings.
Though the frequenters of the factory, including model-actresses Edie Sedgwick and Viva, adore Warhol, they also feel insufficiently compensated for their contributions to his fame. The musical’s writers, Maggie-Kate Coleman, who wrote book and lyrics, and Anna K. Jacobs, who composed the score, seem to suggest that, within this pressure-cooker environment, fueled by jealousy and drugs, any of Warhol’s underlings could have shot him; essentially, any of them could have been his Judas. The introduction of feminist writer Valerie Solanis to the group may have set things off, but the backlash against him was inevitable.
With a little of the ragtag-bunch-of-artists-going-wild feel of 2003′s short-lived Leigh Bowery-inspired musical Taboo and a bit of the bio-mystery feel of Sondheim’s Assassins, POP! utilizes a pastiche of musical styles, including Shirley Temple-style showtunes, sacred music, contemporary pop, and Slovakian folk music, to encompass the variety of influences in the lives of Warhol and his followers.
Coleman’s lyrics in particular cut to the heart of the time in which these misfits were living. Songs like Valerie’s eleven o’clock number Big Gun, Andy’s Still Life, and Edie’s Paper Doll penetrate the hearts of the characters on-hand, full of beautiful lyrical details. If the musical at times seems a bit unfocused and lacks a very satisfying plot, it’s Coleman and Jacobs’s impressive score that moves the piece forward; their promise as a team is undeniable.
Where the show lacks most noticeably is in its cold depiction of Warhol as a bored observer. Though Randy Harrison sings the role with aplomb, the writers fail to give him the chance to demonstrate the incredible charisma that made him the center of attention. Without this essential spark, something seems inherently lacking. The women of the piece – particularly the spunky Leslie Kritzer as loud-mouthed Valerie and Cristen Paige as cupie doll drug addict Edie – end up stealing what ought to be Andy’s show.