nytheatre.com review by Lois Spangler
August 12, 2007
The moment you step into the Bleecker Street Theatre to see Bukowsical!, the first things you notice are a drum kit and a piano, followed instantly by a guitar and a bass guitar—always a good sign when sitting down to watch a musical. That's only the beginning of what turns out to be a very polished, high-energy, amusement-park ride of a show.
It's hard to know where to begin in talking about Bukowsical!—so, the first thing I'll say is that any deep knowledge about Charles Bukowski, the subject of the performance, is not at all necessary. The performance is constructed as a presentation of a work-in-progress to potential investors (the audience) of a fantastic idea for a show that will doubtless be a huge hit on Broadway—with our generous donations, of course: the story of the profane genius, Charles Bukowski, a talented, tormented, and deeply inebriated poet and storyteller of the Beat generation.
The show begins and you hardly know it—is the musical director the real musical director, coming on stage to ask everyone to shut off cell phones? Is it the real founder of the real theater company coming out to introduce the show? But you're left with little time to worry—at the bidding of the illustrious but nameless founder, the ensemble from the Los Angeles-based Sacred Angel Fist Circle of Note Gang Theater appears, and in moments we're already in the first number.
The work that's gone into the show is abundantly clear from the first note. The acting, dancing, and singing are tight; the whole cast is very strong—no one performer stands out, or lags behind—and the songs are the kind of clever that's sorely lacking in comedy these days. They're smart, but not self-conscious; they're written with the kind of humor that doesn't pander to the audience, but instead respects the intellect and knows that we're all in on the joke, too.
By adhering so closely to the tropes of the American musical, and treating its sordid subject with such earnest glee, Bukowsical! manages to be both a satire and a real musical. Pure mockery is just drivel, it sounds shrill and empty when dropped on stage. The folks who have worked so hard on Bukowsical!, however, have a real love for the musical art form, its charms and its foibles, and it shows in some of the truly outrageous—and outrageously funny—moments in the show.
A singing bottle of Sweet Lady Booze, for instance, seduces Bukowski in "Take Me," and a fine, heartfelt ballad links Bukowski and his One True Love in "Chaser of My Heart" (and you'd better believe there's a double entendre in that title).
Unless musicals truly aren't your thing—and even if they aren't—Bukowsical! is well worth seeing. There is only one caveat I've got: try sitting away from the band. There were times when I couldn't hear some of the actors, and they generally coincided with louder moments of music.