MUSICAL THEATRE REVIEW:
OF A MONSTROUS CHILD: A GAGA MUSICAL
Pictured: Kimberly Persona
JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
17 MAY 2013
TORONTO - From Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens to Johnny Cash and Diana Ross — sometimes it seems everyone who has made it to the top of the pop charts has inspired a stage play or a movie musical that, while purporting to examine life and career, manages to capitalize on whatever hits they’ve added to the great American songbook. OF A MONSTROUS CHILD: A GAGA MUSICAL is not one of those shows.
Instead, the musical, which opened Thursday on the stage of Buddies in Bad Times (a production of Ecce Homo is association with Buddies) attempts not only to explain Lady Gaga, but to put her in historical context as well. Writer/director Alistair Newton, in fact, is downright sparing in his use of the Gaga songbook, choosing instead to inform his lecture in social history with a liberal sprinkling of musical and cultural references and a bit of nudity instead.
In fact, Lady Gaga (as played by Kimberly Persona) is not even really the star of his show, although she is definitely along for the ride. Instead, Newton turns over hosting duties to an unlikely duet, charged as guides, not so much through Gaga’s life as her reason for being.
To provide historical cultural perspective, Newton asks Bruce Dow to re-invigorate Leigh Bowery, the Australian-born performance artist and cultural arbiter who died from AIDS in 1994. Meanwhile, the wonderfully androgynous Tyson James gives voice to Gaga’s devoted fan base as The Little Monster, offering a pop culture perspective on the fame that has elevated Stefani Germanotta from mere mortal pop culture contemporary of Madonna and, well, the Madonna.
Having set our feet down on Gaga’s often shocking Yellow Brick Road, The Little Monster discovers Leigh to be the man behind the curtain (where, apparently, he wasn’t dead, but merely resting) and the two embark on an exploration of Gaga’s place in modern gay pop culture. Their exploration follows paths both sacred and profane and offers the opportunity to revisit many of the icons that in their way, prepared the ground so Gaga could take root and blossom. Chy Ryan Spain and Kyle Travis Young team up with the irrepressible Gavin Crawford to enliven everyone from Grace Jones to Bjork to Quentin Crisp to Yoko Ono.
Newton may use all the elements of conventional musical theatre, making the most of Dan Rutzen’s musical direction and the choreography of Sky Fairchild-Waller, but his GAGA MUSICAL is anything but. While his approach too often lacks focus, and while Matt Jackson’s lofty set and costume designs too often fall prey to budgetary limitations, OF A MONSTROUS CHILD still manages to emerge as a thought-provoking visual essay on the evolution — or devolution, depending on your perspective — not so much of an artist, but of art itself.
So, while those who are truly gaga over Gaga might want a few more of her songs included in the 90-minute run, they aren’t likely to miss this opportunity to worship at her altar — and happily, they’ll pick up a bit of historical perspective along the way.