Well-known addresses often evoke inhabitants of fame or notoriety. Currently citizens of the United States are focused on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, and who will supercede George W. and Laura Bush. In the world of the Steiny Road Poet, the address of importance is 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris, which also happens to be the title of Ted Sod and Lisa Koch’s musical.
LITTLE POINTS OF LIGHT. The Poet was lucky enough to catch 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris on April 11, 2008, after the Urban Stages run was extended for a couple more weeks. The Poet saw an early workshop of the musical in March 2007. It was at this time that the Poet began promoting her book The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas and was invited by Sod to participate in a public discussion about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas on stage, his cabaret musical and her opera with William Banfield Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On.
Francis Hill, as director of 27 brought sparkle to the world premiere of this charming work that has Alice Toklas looking at her life-long partner Gertrude Stein. The sparkle starts literally with little flashing lights that framed the stage curtains. This stage effect made the Poet think that a partner looking at his or her spouse who is in the public limelight might metaphorically see that prominently publicized Significant Other in little points of light—not exactly a halo but more a crown of lights. What came to mind was Toklas looking at Stein during the 1934-’35 American lecture tour and the current presidential candidates Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, and John McCain being viewed by their respective spouses. And let’s not choke on Bush Daddy’s thousand points of light that Bush Son extinguished by sending our uniformed women and men into Iraq.
No indeed, the Poet found it interesting that in 27, Alice (played engagingly by Cheryl Stern) turned on her own lights (she was far prettier and more chic than the actual Alice and made a point of saying in this play that was how she viewed herself) and saw a Gertrude (played vigorously by Barbara Rosenblat) that was far darker than the Steiny Road Poet is accustomed to experiencing her Modernist guru.
But hey, “ugly is the new beautiful” as this play pronounces. Periodically in 27, Alice reminds the audience that this is her story and so what she sees may not be the same as what anyone else sees. These reminders were necessary because the Poet kept getting annoyed that 27’s Gertrude and Leo (Gertrude’s brother) did not behave in the ways that all the well known biographies depict them. Because Sod’s book was a cabaret approach—irreverent and constantly, in the Post-modern mode, breaking expectations, the Poet had to bless and release that Gertrude would jokingly say she had a man in her bed and that Leo (played by Emily Zacharias) looked like Harpo Marx. (The Steiny Road Poet wonders if the much younger Cindy McCain sees her husband John with a full head of hair? Well, maybe McCain was already suffering a receding hairline when they got married in May 1980.)
THE WOMEN WHO ARE MEN. Yes, another iconoclastic element of 27 is that women play all the men characters. This cross-gender casting added an extra dose of inebriation to the cabaret landscape. Who were these men besides Leo Stein? Picasso played by Sarah Chalfy who also played Mabel Dodge and Jean Harlow (where did she come from? Hey, this is cabaret!) and F. Scott Fitzgerald played by Susan Haefner who also plays the Stein family friend Marion Walker and Stein’s first lover May Bookstaver.
Emily Zacharias not only played Leo Stein, but also the Paris-based English bookstore owner Sylvia Beach and Violet Startup. Who is Violet Startup? —a Seattle farm girl with whom Alice was smitten when she was 19. Violet is a counter to Stein’s affair with May Bookstaver.
BE MY WIFE, CHANGE YOUR LIFE. There are some very sweet and memorably singable songs in 27 and the cast delivered them well. Favorites include “Dearest One,” “I Taught You Everything You Know” (a tango between Gertrude and Leo), and “Be My Wife (change your life, Alice).” Lisa Koch’s music threads Ted Sod’s sassy book with warmth and verve.
There’s a certain amount of edgy fun the Steiny Road Poet could have comparing the couple who lands in the White House versus the celebrated pair who made 27 rue de Fleurus a sought after destination in the 1920s. Let’s see, the theme song for the McCains might be “Be My Wife.” (Cindy is John’s second wife.) The song for the Obamas might be “Let’s Talk.” (After all, Barack is the touted intellectual.) The song for the Clintons “Don’t, Pussy, Don’t.” However, the Poet will let that float. Why? She is headed to Paris shortly and needs to pack her suitcase and besides it does not look like Hilary can win the Democratic nomination and besides unless Hilary and Bill landed in the White House where the comparison between Stein and Toklas (or should that be Toklas and Stein) could be played out fully, the Poet wouldn’t have as much fun with this naughtiness. So the Poet backs away from the political fray to express thanks for the zaniness of works like 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris that incite new ways of seeing the culture in which we live.
Photos by Urban Stages