This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001



(photo by Stephanie Berger)

Sarah Joy Miller is front and center in glamorous production of ANNA NICOLE at BAM (photo by Stephanie Berger)

BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Through September 28, $25-$235

If Anna Nicole ends up being New York City Opera’s final presentation, then the organization (founded in 1943 and dubbed the People’s Opera by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia) is certainly going out with quite a, well, bang. Commissioned by London’s Royal Opera House and originally performed at Covent Garden, Anna Nicole is a playfully entertaining pop operetta based on the life of celebrity diva Anna Nicole Smith, following her life from her early years as Vickie Lynn Hogan in Mexia, Texas, through her apprenticeship as a stripper in Houston and then her success as a model in print ads and as Playboy Playmate of the Year. Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, librettist Richard Thomas, and director Richard Jones tell the tale chronologically as Anna Nicole (Sarah Joy Miller) argues with her mother (Susan Bickley), marries and divorces her first husband, Billy Boy (Ben Davis), visits Doctor Yes (Richard Troxell) to get a huge pair of golden Winnebagos, meets and marries billionaire octogenarian J. Howard Marshall II (Robert Brubaker), and becomes a tabloid regular and reality TV superstar. It’s all bright lights and flashy colors on Miriam Buether’s wonderfully cheesy sets and Nicky Gillibrand’s riotous costumes while the cast, which includes sixty-six members of the New York City Opera, belt out self-referential, tongue-in-cheek lyrics that contain the kind of language not usually heard at opera houses around the world, highlighted by F-bombs galore and a host of naughty nicknames for breasts. The story skips around in often confusing ways, too much time is spent on some relatively insignificant sections just for shock effect (for example, the stripper scene), and Thomas, who cowrote Jerry Springer: The Opera, never really gets inside Anna Nicole’s head, which keeps the audience at a distance. In addition, Miller doesn’t quite embody Anna Nicole, and it is occasionally hard to interpret what she’s singing, forcing the audience to read the surtitles, which is not necessary for all the vocalists. The standout performers are Bickley and tenor Brubaker, who is a hoot, especially in his glam outfit. This coproduction with BAM continues at the Howard Gilman Opera House through September 28; it would indeed be a shame if this were New York City Opera’s swan song, as they are willing to take on challenges that other companies wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot (stripper?) pole. (You can contribute to keep their 2013-14 season alive here.)

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