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A CurtainUp Review
Rue de Fleurus


What would Alice have been without Gertrude? That sentence ought to read: 'What would Gertrude have been without Alice?' (One should be allowed to write one's own obituary. . ..don't you agree? .— Alice B. Toklas, opening up the play by reading from her obituary and thus establishing her presence as an imaginary narrator reliving her marriage to Gertrude Stein.
27 Rue de Fleurus
L-R: Susan Haefner, Emily Zacharias, Barbara Rosenblat
(Photo: Urban Stages)
Add this small charmer to this season's cornucopia of off-beat new musicals like The Adding Machine, The Slugbearers of Kayprol Island and Next to Normal. The title refers to the address where the notables of the Paris cultural scene from 1910 onwards gathered for tea and lofty discussions about art, literature and music.

The hostess of this Parisian salon was writer and art collector Gertrude Stein. The tea server was Alice B. Toklas, Stein's wife and assistant for thirty-nine years. Though she wrote several memoirs of her own after Stein's death, Toklas was best known as the subject of Stein's best-selling 1933 memoir The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, her hashish brownies and the facial hair that adorned her upper lip.

It is Alice's helpmeet role in Gertrude's life that inspired Ted Sod to explore the "what would Alice have been without Gertrude?" question through the prism of a temporarily back from the dead fictional Alice's mind. Sod drew on his own imagination as well as facts to get inside Alice's mind. (Much has been written about both Stein and Toklas so there was no shortage of source material)/ He enlisted composer/lyricist Lisa Koch to help him turn this amusing conceit into a chamber musical.

Petite, pixie Cheryl Stern looks nothing like the stern, mustachioed Alice pictured in a black and white photo on the playbill cover. The picture includes her buxom and also plain partner, portrayed by the buxom but very attractive Barbara Rosenblat. But that supports the whole idea of this being a fantasy about how Alice might envision her life (and looks), as stated in the opening that finds her reading her own obituary. The fantasy is further reflected in the off-kilter walls of Roman Tatarowicz's effectively spare set and the multiple roles inhabited by three of the cast's five women, none attempting to realistically look like any characters. Thus when Emily Zacharias plays Gertrude's opinionated brother Leo she wears the hat he was known to rarely remove, even when indoors; Susan Haefner simply slicks down her hair as F. Scott Fitzgerald, and a blonde wig helps Sarah Chalfy segue from Picasso and Mable Dodge to Jean Harlow.

While this is not a sung through musical, the dialogue is mainly a jump starter for Lisa Koch's sixteen songs. Unlike some directors who opt to mike singers even in theaters as small as Urban stages, Frances Hill has wisely chosen a cast with voices that deliver Koch's enjoyable score, and with enough clarity for the audience not to miss the witty lyrics.

While the set is spare, Roman Tatarowicz has worked a series of frames into the back panel, which video designer Alex Koch keeps filling in with images to illustrate what's happening on stage. Whoever said that you can't do sophisticated work in a small theater?

27 Rue de Fleurus will probably be a draw mostly to people who don't draw a blank at mention of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. But actually it doesn't take any prior knowledge to catch on to the fact that Stein was as famous as an art collector as a writer and the role Toklas played in her life. Basically this is a story of a marriage -- you might say an arty Four Poster with music.

Besides offering consistently interesting and original work, like this and last season's outstanding The Oxford Roof Climbers (review ), Urban Stages also makes it affordable to all with Wednesday performances at just $25. And small as the theater is, it has stadium seating for perfect sightlines no matter where you sit.

27 RUE DE FLEURUS
Book and Lyrics by Ted Sod
Music and Lyrics by Lisa Koch
Directed by Frances Hill
Cast (in order of appearance): Cheryl Stern (Alice B. Toklas), Emily Zacharias (Leo Stein, Sylvia Beach, Violet Startup), Sarah Chalfy (Picasso, Mabel Dodge, Jean Harlow), Susan Haefner (Marian Walker, F. Scott Fitzgerals, May Boostaver), Barbara Rosenblat (Gertrude Stein)
Set Design: Roman Tatarowicz
Costume Design: Carrie Robbins
Lighting Design: Raquel Davis
Video Design: Alex Koch
Pianist/Musical Director: John Bell
Choreographer: Jessica Hayden
Running: 1 hr 30 mins without Intermission.
Urban Stages 259 West 30th Street (between 7th and 8th) www.urbanstages.org 212-868-4444
From 3/01/08; opening 3/06/08; closing 4/06/08.
Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8PM, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3PM.
General Admission Tickets: $40 with Wednesday performances specially priced at $25.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on March 6th

MUSICAL NUMBERS:
Salon (Let's Talk)/Ensemble (Music & Lyrics: Lisa Koch 1994/2006 Mamajune Music BMI)

Genius/Ensemble (Music: Lisa Koch / Lyrics: Lisa Koch & Ted Sod 2006 Mamajune Music Bmi)

Place On The Wall/Gertrude & Alice (Music & Lyrics: Lisa Koch 1994/2006 Mamajune Music Bmi)

I Taught You Everything/Gertrude & Leo (Music: Lisa Koch / Lyrics: Lisa Koch & Ted Sod 2006 Mamajune Music Bmi)

Be My Wife/What About Me?/Ggertrude, Alice & Ensemble (Music: Lisa Koch / Lyrics: Lisa Koch & Ted Sod 2007 Mamajune Music Bmi)

Role Play/Alice, Gertrude & Ensemble (Music: Lisa Koch / Lyrics: Lisa Koch & Ted Sod 2007 Mamajune Music Bmi)

Violette (Destiny)/Mabel, Gertrude & Alice (Music & Lyrics: Lisa Koch 1994/2006 Mamajune Music Bmi)

Salon (Let's Talk) Reprise #1/Ensemble (Music & Lyrics: Lisa Koch 1994/2006 Mamajune Music Bmi)

Hemingway/Wives/Ensemble (Music: Lisa Koch / Lyrics: Lisa Koch & Ted Sod 2006 Mamajune Music Bmi)

I Am Your Muse/Alice With Gertrude (Music: Lisa Koch / Lyrics: Lisa Koch & Ted Sod 2006 Mamajune Music Bmi)

Don't, Pussy, Don't/.Gertrude (Music: Lisa Koch / Lyrics: Lisa Koch & Ted Sod 2006 Mamajune Music Bmi)

Violette (Destiny) Reprise #1, 2 & 3/May, Gertrude,Alice,Violet,Jean (Music & Lyrics: Lisa Koch 1994/2006 Mamajune Music Bmi)

Salon (Let's Talk) Reprise #2/ensemble (Music & Lyrics: Lisa Koch 1994/2006 Mamajune Music Bmi)

Don't, Lovey, Don't/Alice (Music: Lisa Koch / Lyrics: Lisa Koch & Ted Sod 2006 Mamajune Music Bmi)

Alone/Alice (Music: Lisa Koch / Lyrics: Lisa Koch & Ted Sod 2006 Mamajune Music Bmi)

Salon Finale/Ensemble (Music: Lisa Koch / Lyrics: Lisa Koch & Ted Sod 2006 Mamajune Music BMI)


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©Copyright 2008, Elyse Sommer.
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