Theatre review: 'Bukowsical' is brazen and bewitching

For the News-DemocratJune 13, 2013 

Let's hear it for the risk takers, for those who embrace originality, for entertainers who want to give audiences something different.

Want to raise your eyebrows, laugh out loud and marvel at the chutzpah of creative minds? Fit the bold, brazen -- and bewitching -- "Bukowsical" into your schedule at New Line Theater during the next two weekends.

The lyrics and book by Gary Stockdale and Spencer Green are shocking and vulgar, but also very clever and witty. After all, the musical is about the anti-social author, prolific poet and defiant alcoholic Charles Bukowski, dubbed "the laureate of American lowlife" by Time magazine in 1986.

Those who are easily offended might consider NLT subversive while fans of outrageous entertainment such as 'The Book of Mormon" and cable sitcoms won't mind the casual profanity and crude sex life talk. Through a series of vignettes, you'll learn about Bukowski's awful childhood, boozy haze of disillusionment, self-destructive lost years, postal work, love affairs and damaged soul behavior.

Director Scott Miller stages this writer's sordid life with the zest of a summer camp counselor -- he prefers not to mock the material. And thankfully, "Bukowsical" doesn't have that off-putting hipster vibe that often derails works on people who have a certain cult cachet. The musical is constructed to drop jaws and be funny, but also allows us intimate access to a true character, his time and distinctive place (Los Angeles).

The musical score is classic Schubert Alley, and Justin Smolik directs an upbeat tight combo. A song about skanky sexual trysts? The performers tackle "Love is a Dog from Hell" with gusto. A cheery, chirpy, foul-mouth opening number about perversions and chronic alcoholism's ravaging effects sets the tone. NLT's merry band of performers could be singing with the Muppets with this energy.

NLT loves to turn musical theater conventions inside out. They like to redefine shows that were not the tour bus destinations on Broadway. They've taken on "High Fidelity," "Cry Baby" and "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" and made everyone notice their versions. They're passionate about connecting people to offbeat art.

I mean, why not? We can appreciate the talent involved in big Broadway behemoths like "Anything Goes," but we sure can applaud a rag-tag cast fully committing to songs like "The Derelict Trail" and "12 Steps of Love."

While not exactly a repertory company, New Line casts many familiar faces who excel at their craft. Veteran Zachary Allen Farmer displays the fire in his belly to bring the poor wretched Bukowski to life -- and dives in to the deep end as the doughy, slovenly derelict character.

Kimi Short, who wowed in NLT's last show, "Next to Normal," takes on the role of Bukowski's long-suffering barfly girlfriend, known here as "One True Love," and she emotionally delivers "Chaser of My Heart" and "Remember Me" like a Broadway showstopper.

Ryan Foizey, with his terrific stage presence, easily shifts from leads to supporting roles, and here plays both Bishop Fulton Sheen and Mickey Rourke, among others.

The gutsy ensemble has such conviction for the material that you can't help enjoy their delivery. Joel Hackbarth, Christopher Strawhun, Nicholas Kelly, Marcy Wiegert and Chrissy Young all have engaging moments -- silly, saucy and snappy.

It may be tawdry, but NLT does not veer into tasteless. The winner of the New York Fringe Festival's outstanding musical award is one act, with no intermission, and obviously is not for the kids, with its adult content. But it's unlike anything you have ever seen.

What: "Bukowsical"

When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; through June 22

Where: Washington University South Campus Theatre (formerly CBC High School), 6501 Clayton Road, in St. Louis.

Tickets: Thursday performances $15 adults, $10 students and seniors; Fridays and Saturdays, $20 adults, $15 students and seniors. Available at the box office or metrotix.com or 314-534-1111.

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