As arts collaborations go, these seem like strange bedfellows indeed: the Bearded Ladies, Philadelphia’s gender-bending, satiric, outré, and greatly beloved theatre troupe – and Opera Philadelphia.
But, as we know, opposites attract. Under the imaginative leadership of David Devan, our opera company is venturing into new, ambitious worlds – none more so than Andy: A Popera, which turned out to be an extraordinary evening – more devised music theatre than conventional opera, but smart, entertaining, and very much An Event.
I saw and reviewed Andy last year, in its second phase incarnation in the Wilma Theater lobby. At that point, the score was a mix of original music by Heath Allen, alongside inserted numbers by Lou Reed, Lana Del Rey and others. It was messy, but also had tremendous verge and charm. I wondered if it was possible to polish it without destroying it.
I’ll only add that the new version of Andy is very much more cohesive than before – it is now almost entirely an original score (by Heath Allen; also Dan Visconti), and the narrative is clearer and more focused.
Even better, this has been accomplished without sacrificing the essential, almost improvisatory spirit of version two. Much of the credit belongs to director and co-writer John Jarboe, who has given Andy a stunning, multimedia visual presence. Some cast members are new, others returning – though I rather preferred the more fragile, touching portrayal of Julie Warhola (Andy’s mother) in the last version, this cast is, on the whole, terrific – and Mary Tuomanen is a knock-out in the title role (I had no idea she sings so well!).
What’s next for Andy? I don’t know, and maybe nobody else does, either. And I’m not sure it matters. Warhol was all about “happenings” – glamorous but fleeting. This is in no sense a conventional theatre work or a standard biography – but I think it may well be one that Andy himself would have loved.