‘The Beautiful Lady’ Overview: A Cabaret for the New Order
A couple of minutes into “The Beautiful Lady,” you would possibly end up considering the present owes somewhat one thing to “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812”: After all, listed here are, once more, a bunch of exalted Russians in a cabaret, singing of life, loss, hope and love.
But “The Beautiful Lady,” a musical by Elizabeth Swados from 1984, is definitely the creative forebear of Dave Malloy’s “Great Comet,” regardless that it is just simply now getting a New York premiere at La MaMa, underneath Anne Bogart’s evocative course.
Swados is greatest remembered for her 1978 present “Runaways” (briefly revived by Encores! Off-Center in 2016, just a few months after her dying); “The Beautiful Lady” provides to the mounting proof that she was among the many most idiosyncratic and artistic composer-lyricists of her technology. (A number of years in the past Malloy joined the likes of Michael R. Jackson, Taylor Mac and Shaina Taub on the tribute album “The Liz Swados Project.”)
More of a track cycle than a historically structured, plot-driven musical, “The Beautiful Lady” is about on the Stray Dog Café, a real-life St. Petersburg cabaret the place the proprietor, Boris Pronin (Starr Busby), hosted such literary luminaries as Anna Akhmatova (Kate Fuglei), Osip Mandelstam (Henry Stram), Marina Tsvetaeva (Ashley Pérez Flanagan) and Alexander Blok (George Abud, from “The Band’s Visit”) within the years main as much as World War I. They’re excessive on concepts and beliefs — and, for a few of them, on one another — and dream of a political, sexual and creative revolution.
Swados and Paul Schmidt, who translated a lot of these writers’ poems (giant chunks of that are included into the present), wrote the e-book, which was revised by Jocelyn Clarke and serves principally as a thread linking the songs. And, oh, what wonders these are: vibrant and humorous, determined and elegiac, with some so pretty they may shatter your coronary heart.
Bogart makes essentially the most of La MaMa’s deep stage and creates putting tableaus with little quite a lot of chairs and tables (Andromache Chalfant did the scenic design) and daring lighting (designed by Brian H. Scott) that focuses on blue and crimson. The impact is powerfully stark and by no means overwhelms the people on the coronary heart of the story.
When they modify into grey jumpsuits about halfway via, we’re reminded how usually goals of revolution have resulted in repressive regimes. In the musical’s dreamlike world, the Stray Dog stays open lengthy sufficient that its denizens face that actuality and should resort to gallows humor, telling one another jokes that mine the merciless absurdity of life underneath Stalinist rule, with its Orwellian Newspeak and thought crimes. (Some of these jokes have been repurposed for Putin; they nonetheless work.)
“My girl made from silk and sighs,” Sergei Yesenin (Andrew Polec, a good distance from “Bat Out of Hell”) sings in an ode to the American dancer Isadora Duncan, craving and helpless as his world comes crashing down. “My girl full of guffaws and goodbyes.” He would possibly as nicely be describing — poetically, after all — the spirit of this present.
The Beautiful Lady
Through May 28 at La MaMa, Manhattan; lamama.org. Running time: 1 hour half-hour.