Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven
“Pop!”--a wildly exuberant new musical--is now on the boards at Yale Rep. A battery of fresh young voices recreates the world of Pop Artist Andy Warhol at the very moment he is shot.
It all takes place in “The Factory,” Warhol’s appropriately-named studio, where the artist’s wide assortment of acolytes have gathered. The show draws on history. Warhol was actually shot in 1968 by Valerie Solanas, an attack from which he never fully recovered. Solanas, a wannabe playwright and a peripheral member of “The Factory,” had submitted a play which Warhol had ignored. Solanas, clearly unbalanced, was the founder and sole member of SCUM (Society For Cutting Up Men). But she may have been no less unbalanced than other Warhol followers, who ranged from freakish characters to celebrities, all of them fueled by drugs, sex, and hero-worship. But The Factory was a place for dreams, and Warhol, center to it all, let those dreams take shape. He created his Superstars, as he moved from the visual arts to film production, gaining more and more influence as he did so.
“Pop!” captures it all in this exciting production. It is strange that Warhol (whose personality registered as a cipher) could be the strong center for this maelstrom of activity. Warhol, in life and in this stage version, appeared to be totally passive in his relationships (even though he was enormously productive in his work). He was like a blank slate, a tabula rasa, on which his worshippers wrote their own interpretations. In this show Warhol sits quietly in the center, as his strange assortment of followers whirl around him.
Yet “Pop!” works. Success of the show is due to its highly professional collaboration—its team of writers, performers, designers and the slick, sure direction of Mark Brokaw. The music (Anna K. Jacobs) and book/lyrics (Maggie-Kate Coleman) captures the mood of the Warhol world, as do Valerie Therese Bart’s set, Kevin Adams moody lighting, and Ying Song’s over-the-top costumes. Denis Jones’ choreography brings the story to life, as does the work of a highly gifted cast. Randy Harrison is a memorable Andy Warhol, right on target. Leslie Kritzer never misses a beat as the formidable Valerie, and Cristen Paige is delicious as Edie Sedgwick (a Warhol Superstar). Emily Swallow as Viva, another Warhol Superstar, pumps considerable energy into the proceedings. And Brian Charles Rooney, as the transsexual Candy, gives a striking performance. Doug Kreeger and Danny Binstock, as Warhol gofers, add their energies and impeccable dance routines to the show.
Warhol, it must be admitted, was an icon of the ‘60s, more concerned with his own image than those he created on paper and film. Nevertheless he was the major force behind the Pop Art movement, which had its impact on our entire culture. And now “Pop!” does justice to the era and the icon, creating a work of art in its own right.
-- Irene Backalenick
Dec. 7, 2009