I sold a cookie at the intermission of This Ain’t No Disco. Weirdly, I needed the sugar. For the total insistent, glitter-ball-bedecked, in-your-face-sleazy-horny exuberance of the brand new rock opera by Peter Yanowitz and Hedwig and the Offended High-tail–creator Stephen Trask, halfway thru the point out I simply felt tired. I felt like I changed into watching the hyperactive like miniature one in every of a coked-up threeway by Moulin Rouge, Rent, and a leisure suit. Which is to dispute that while there’s continuously hundreds to peep at in this rather scattershot paean to the Modern York of Studio Fifty four and the Mudd Membership — from the panoply of passe signage covering the hulking scaffolding of Jason Sherwood’s residing (GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS! XXX PORNO HITS! OPEN 24 HOURS!) to the no doubt startling array of tight abs and small video display shorts — there’s seldom mighty of substance to preserve onto. And no matter a bunch of strongly sung performances, what’s there typically feels flattened by a excessive-energy nevertheless unmemorable rating and a storyline anchored by cliché.
Love Rent, This Ain’t No Disco needs to introduce us to a youthful swath of La Vie Boheme and gradually bind our sympathies up with them as they continue to exist individual struggles by finding out to depend on the like and toughen of their chosen family. But unlike Jonathan Larson’s 1990s fusion of Puccini and the East Village, Trask and Yanowitz’s musical struggles to salvage us invested in its solid of free spirits, and even to introduce them effectively. It took me till virtually halfway thru the point out to end referring to one in every of its main characters in my head as “the girl with the hat” (any person in a roundabout scheme acknowledged her title out loud), and quarter-hour into the total affair, I wasn’t rather particular who anyone changed into.
Successfully, anyone except Steve Rubell, the leering, coke-addled Studio Fifty four impresario who struts and swaggers above the crowds of wannabe occasion monsters, handpicking who gets in and who stays on the road: “Crawl dwelling and shave, you’re furry!” sings the deliciously over-the-prime Theo Stockman as Rubell, “I shall settle whose sneakers are inappropriate or moral.” Stockman, shimmying and dipping like his spine’s been replaced with a Twizzler, all bleary eyes and preening Cheshire cat grin wrapped in sweaty polyester, is equal substances expressionless and scrumptious — a sizzling-mess king of hedonism perched on an an increasing selection of unstable throne.
His performance — along with that of Chilina Kennedy as an opportunistic publicist named Binky and Will Connolly as an amusingly gnomic Warhol-analogue called simply “The Artist” — is both a spotlight of the point out and a signpost pointing at one in every of its main inconsistencies: In This Ain’t No Disco, the cartoons are infinitely extra compelling than the true folk. The Artist, Binky, and Rubell are all played by very kindly actors which may presumably be clearly relishing the chance to flirt with narrative and sketch. They stand out in the total glittery whirl, while the younger artists who're supposed to be the coronary heart of the point out in actuality feel swept along in it, mockingly bland no matter the reality that they’re meant to be extra deeply drawn. I mediate of it as Marx Brothers syndrome: Who cares about the earnest younger followers who generate the A-residing of all those films if you would perhaps presumably well be watching Groucho, Chico, and Harpo? It’s no longer a controversy if you came for the wise-cracks and the hijinks in the predominant residing, alternatively it's some distance when the entertaining youths are no doubt supposed to be the ones at heart stage.
These entertaining youths (they’re all very entertaining) comprise Chad (Peter LaPrade, with a farmer’s-market–new face and a blonde mop of Hobbit hair), Sammy (the massive-voiced Samantha Marie Ware, who pushes her songs as some distance as they can breeze), Meesh (Krystina Alabado) and Landa/Landon (Lulu Tumble). The final two are a steady couple, coat-study ladies at Studio Fifty four by evening and “weird-ass sculptors” by day. Varied than that, we don’t know mighty about them, except that they’re dapper-candy and their relationship is outwardly rock actual. When Landa at final turns to Meesh and asks to be called Landon — “I mediate that I’m … I’m a man” — Meesh replies simply with, “Yeah, I know,” and the followers share a pleasantly generic duet about how, no matter what, “the completely share of the evening / goes dwelling with you.” (They’ve also obtained a quantity called “Baryshnikov’s Coat,” in which they play costume-up with the swanky trappings completely different celebs contain left at their coat-study — a relaxing thought that no doubt ought to generate higher song.) Landon and Meesh are accepting, nurturing, never enraged, continuously making-it-work. Which is candy and all, nevertheless also makes them in actuality feel less like corpulent folk than a happy Bohemian kindly: the compulsory entertaining humans that come linked to a dreamy Tribeca loft dwelling where Chad and Sammy, our extra beleaguered heroes, will at final shatter.
And shatter they both make, after individual highs. Chad, who has flee some distance flung from a homophobic father in Queens and is working as a scantily clad busboy at Studio Fifty four after we first meet him, gets expertise-seen (smartly, in actuality just reasonably-face–seen) by the on-the-make Binky, who promises him a new life as a Banksy-like street artist called “Rake.” Chad has brief doubts — “I painted my excessive tops, and I'm able to barely sketch” — nevertheless is naïvely caught up in Binky’s promises of glory. Kennedy, in a group of an increasing selection of hilarious wigs by Mike Potter, makes the mercurial-talking agent into a roughly Max Bialystok–meets–Joan Rivers. She’s a cockroach in lipstick — she’ll continue to exist one thing — and her “Vogue”-like vitality-solo “I’m Now no longer Accomplished But” is one in every of the musical highlights of the point out. (It’s also one in every of the completely songs that feels in true stylistic conversation with bands like Talking Heads, who helped make clear one in every of the scenes Trask and Yanowitz are drawn to, to no longer label offering their musical with its title. Though the play hops between glitzy, blow-delighted uptown and grungy, disco-disdaining downtown, it’s typically hard to preserve video display of which is which.)
Propelled by Binky, Chad’s ascent and his inevitable flop web the play’s first act, which culminates in a harebrained publicity stunt that leaves Rake’s artistic profession expressionless on the vine and Chad himself humiliated and broke, relief in seedy accommodations turning tricks for cash. Act Two begins with him lamenting his short-lived reputation — “I’m a loser with nothing left to lose” — in a song where the title, “Fifteen Minutes Later,” is the cleverest ingredient about it.
That’s just a few residing (and the point out’s completely halfway carried out), nevertheless the suppose is that we don’t care mighty about any of it. Chad’s backstory — the running away, the turning tricks, the doing traces of coke with Steve Rubell, the by hook or by crook serene having a peep like a Georgia peach no matter all of it — doesn’t in actuality feel critically true. It’s a group of hackneyed, faux-gritty building blocks assembled into a identical outdated musical-theater hero with a identical outdated musical-theater suppose: “The set make I belong?” And no matter her punk apparel and beautiful pipes, Sammy is equally weighed down by passe devices — and ones that no doubt feel both trite and a miniature bit icky to employ in suppose so that you can add instantaneous depth to a personality. She’s a 22-twelve months-passe single mother whose son is the fabricated from rape (all thru excessive school, by her mother’s boyfriend). She cuts herself to no doubt feel like she’s “as a lot as bustle” and she’s torn between her artistic aspirations and her loyalty to her son, an true miniature kid in patterned PJs (Antonio Watson) who shows up every typically to coo diversifications on “I love you, Mommy,” thereby serving to the point out’s creators to make shameless grabs at our heartstrings. The writers contain relied on traumas which may presumably be no doubt just tropes. We are able to’t gape mighty contour in these characters, nevertheless we all know their outlines all too smartly.
Sammy, who can no doubt grunt, gets her hold fairy godmother in the manufacture of The Artist, whose consideration carries extra clout than Binky’s pipe dreams. “You dazzle me, I wanna make a file with you,” murmurs the enigmatic trendsetter from late his darkish glasses and white shock of hair, after he hears Sammy make a chunk of of punky spoken discover, “Come to Chelsea … I contain a house I name the Wherehouse there. It’s where I make my ingredient.” The miniature Connolly — who underplays every thing marvelously, folding his hands across his dim-turtlenecked chest like a Renaissance characterize — is scheme extra riveting than a send-up of Andy Warhol has any moral to be. He’s attention-grabbing ample to peep that you proceed to wish to be on his side even after The Artist dangles weight loss program pills in entrance of Sammy, whose fright is rising with her musical massive title and who’s clearly headed for burnout. And he’s a solid ample performer to raise off the point out’s penultimate song, “One Night, Terpsichore,” an anthem to life’s stability of gentle and shadow and to the act of forging one’s inventive persona in the gruesome furnace of the enviornment. It’s a song that may presumably wish sunk a less charismatic actor, since it asks The Artist to vault from taking part sketch to human-being-with-a-previous (“I changed into a boy, unlucky, from a steel town … ”) and then to holy prophet of the musical’s message in a matter of some crescendos. But Connelly makes it work by balancing out the music’s purple flights with admirable poise. I desire Tresnjak had allowed The Artist to wait to take his signature glasses, those miniature soul-hiding dim mirrors, till this climactic quantity, nevertheless sadly that wanted gesture had been dilapidated up prolonged sooner than.
Overall — and likely unsurprisingly for a point out that, no matter its title, mostly is a disco — Tresnjak’s production sacrifices the probably effectiveness of small moments to a heady dependence on flashing lights and forward motion. It adheres to the Baz Luhrmann school of musical theater: More, extra, extra, all yet again, all yet again, all yet again. In celebrations of decadence, it would typically in actuality feel like we aren’t being allowed to breathe, nevertheless pumping the brakes every typically presents us a chance to choose to one thing, to end spinning prolonged ample to care. I changed into overjoyed for only a moment when I idea that the point out may presumably well no doubt end on an uncharacteristically mute point out — only a scene of sleepy, early-morning domesticity. But Tresnjak jams these final moments moral up against the bows, barely allowing the stillness to register sooner than the total smiling solid is relief on stage belting, in that weird formulation some musicals contain where even the villain (right here, the hypocritical D.A. who topples Rubell for tax fraud) gets to stand hand-in-hand with the ensemble, delivering sunny lyrics like “Love is a occurring! Existence is a occurring! Artwork is a occurring!”
The flatness of Trask and Yanowitz’s topic fabric is basically linked with its alternate in nostalgia, which manufactures a 1979 Modern York that appears to be like like just a few match, shining younger dancers in disco apparel and a pair of lovely artist-types singing about life and like in an limitless loft. A miles shout from Hedwig, this musical’s grit is all in the advertising and marketing replica, though presumably I ought to grant it its excessive energy. At intermission, a heart-passe man next to me changed into to the heart-passe man next to him, asking, “Had been we that peppy?” His accomplice sighed wistfully: “It changed into the coke.”
This Ain’t No Disco is at the Atlantic Theater Company thru August 12.