Though it’s being billed as a musical play, the latest production of the American Repertory Theater is really an interesting amalgam of storytelling, music, silent film and visual art with strong underpinnings of Berlin cabaret circa 1920.
World War I is the backdrop for much of this tale of three artists and a scientist who struggle to make art, live, love and survive in one of the most tumultuous political climates in history. Affairs of the heart, unrequited love and the obliteration of youthful optimism and dreams follow the quartet through the end of World War II, when one of the artists experiences the true meaning of the blue flower firsthand.
The story is told through a narrative song cycle rife with haunting ballads that enable this incredibly talented ensemble to imbue great emotional depth into each of their characters.
The heartache is palpable when Maria (Teal Wicks) delivers a stunning “Eiffel Tower.” Meghan McGeary’s Hannah achieves an entirely different, though equally successful, effect when she sings “I can’t eat as much as I’d like to puke” in her oddly fascinating protest song “Puke.”
The interspersion of film and narrative storytelling not only keep the production interesting to watch, but also help propel it forward. Despite impressive vocals, Daniel Jenkins’ Max is most appealing when delivering a lecture at Harvard in his post-war language “Maxperanto.”
Lucas Kavner is heartbreakingly authentic as Franz, the young impassioned artist who marches blindly into war, oblivious to the ramifications of his choice on his dearest friends.
Though the production could benefit from a 15-minute cut, the experience of “The Blue Flower” is still an incredibly engaging, inventive way to tell a story.
Though German artist Max Bauman achieves much success and acclaim, at the end of his life he’s a lonely collage artist in New York City. Along the way, he falls in love with scientist Maria and Dada-inspired activist Hannah — while also forming a deep friendship with Franz, a fellow artist whose death drastically alters Bauman’s world.