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

OEDIPUS: Sex with Mum Was Blinding

(photo by Elias Moraitis) OEDIPUS - Photos OEDIPUS

Elli Papakonstantinou’s multimedia, immersive adaptation of Oedipus Rex debuts at BAM this week (photo by Elias Moraitis)

BAM Fisher, Fishman Space
321 Ashland Pl.
September 25-29, $30

Perhaps more than any other Greek tragedy, Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex lends itself to all kinds of adaptations. The violent tale of murder, suicide, incest, and self-mutilation has been turned into operas, films, oratorios, and plays in multiple languages around the world; among those who have tackled the 429 BCE work are Pier Paolo Pasolini (Edipo Re), Luis Alfaro (Oedipus El Rey), Toshio Matsumoto (Funeral Parade of Roses), Gabriel García Márquez (Edipo Alcalde), Ola Rotimi (The Gods Are Not to Blame), Peter Schickele (Oedipus Tex), Jean Cocteau (La Machine Infernale), Park Chan-wook (Oldboy), German comedian Bodo Wartke (könig ödipus), and many others, moving the story to South Central LA, the Philippines, Japan, Nigeria, Colombia, and even outer space.

 ( photo by © Karol Jarek)

Lito Messini stars as title character in OEDIPUS: Sex with Mum Was Blinding (photo by © Karol Jarek)

Greek avant-garde creator Elli Papakonstantinou transforms Sophocles’s play into an immersive hybrid opera for the multimedia OEDIPUS: Sex with Mum Was Blinding, running at the BAM Fisher September 25-29. The hundred-minute piece, a collaboration between the Athens-based ODC Ensemble and New York City’s the Directors Company, features a score composed by Tilemachos Moussas and Julia Kent and played live by Kent on cello, Misha Piatigorsky on piano, and Barbara Nerness on live electronics; real-time video by Hassan Estakhrian and Stephanie Sherriff, with cinematic environments by Sherriff; costumes by Jolene Richardson; and masks by Maritina Keleri and Chrysanthi Avloniti. Papakonstantinou, whose previous work includes Louisette: The Backstage of Revolution, Touching the Bottom of the Sea, and The Kindly Ones (at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp Memorial), is credited with the concept, stage direction, libretto, and lighting. Lito Messini stars as Oedipus, with Nassia Gofa as Jocasta, Elias Husiak as the boy, Anastasia Katsinavaki as Teiresias, Theodora Loukas as the woman, Misha Piatigorsky as the MC, and Manos Tsakiris as the researcher. Papakonstantinou developed parts of the show during a residency at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music & Acoustics, where she worked with artists and scientists to address such questions as “Are we free?,” “Dο we experience free will?,” and “Are there real alternatives, or is all that takes place the outcome of necessity?” University of London professor Manos Tsakiris served as the scientific adviser for yet another unusual and original adaptation of this classic story.


Crossing the Line Festival opens with Isabelle Adjani in Opening Night

Crossing the Line Festival opens with Isabelle Adjani in Opening Night (photo © Simon Gosselin)

Crossing the Line Festival
French Institute Alliance Française and other venues
September 12 - October 12

FIAF’s thirteenth annual Crossing the Line Festival, one of the city’s best multidisciplinary events, opens appropriately enough with the US premiere of French director Cyril Teste’s Opening Night, a multimedia adaptation of John Cassavetes’s 1977 film. The seventy-five-minute presentation, running September 12-14, stars the legendary Isabelle Adjani, along with Morgan Lloyd Sicard and Frédéric Pierrot; the actors will receive new stage directions at each performance, so anything can happen. (In conjunction with Opening Night, FIAF will be hosting the CinéSalon series “Magnetic Gaze: Isabelle Adjani on Screen,” consisting of ten films starring Adjani, including The Story of Adele H, Queen Margot, and Possession, on Tuesdays through October 29.) Also on September 12, Paris-born, New York–based visual artist Pierre Huyghe will unveil his free video installation The Host and the Cloud, a two-hour film exploring the nature of human ritual, set in a former ethnographic museum; the 2009-10 film will be shown on a loop in the FIAF Gallery Monday to Saturday through the end of the festival, October 12. Another major highlight of CTL 2019 is the US premiere of Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne’s Why? Running September 21 through October 6 at Theatre for a New Audience’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, the seventy-five-minute show delves into the very existence of theater itself. The festival also features dance, music, and other live performances by an impressive range of creators; below is the full schedule. Numerous shows will be followed by Q&As with the writers, directors, and/or performers.

Thursday, September 12
Saturday, September 14

Opening Night, directed by Cyril Teste, starring Isabelle Adjani, Morgan Lloyd Sicard, and Frédéric Pierrot, FIAF Florence Gould Hall, $45-$55, 7:30

Thursday, September 12
Saturday, October 12

The Host and the Cloud, directed by Pierre Huyghe, FIAF Gallery, free

Friday, September 13
Sunday, September 15

Manmade Earth, by 600 HIGHWAYMEN, the Invisible Dog Art Center, $15 suggested donation

Tuesday, September 17
Wednesday, September 18

The Disorder of Discourse, Fanny de Chaillé’s restaging of a lecture by Michel Foucault, with Guillaume Bailliart, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, free with RSVP, 8:00

Saturday, September 21
Sunday, October 6

Why?, by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, Polonsky Shakespeare Center, Theatre for a New Audience, $90-$115

© Louise Quignon

Radio Live makes its New York premiere at Crossing the Line Festival (photo © Louise Quignon)

Wednesday, September 25
Isadora Duncan, by Jérôme Bel, CTL commission, with Catherine Gallant, FIAF Florence Gould Hall, $35, 7:30

Thursday, September 26
Saturday, September 28

Somewhere at the Beginning, created and performed by Mikaël Serre, choreographed by Germaine Acogny, set to music by Fabrice Bouillon, La MaMa, $25, 7:00

Wednesday, October 2
Radio Live, with Aurélie Charon, Caroline Gillet, and Amélie Bonnin, based on narratives by young change makers from around the world, FIAF Florence Gould Hall, $15-$35

Thursday, October 3
Sunday, October 6

Look Who’s Coming to Dinner, world premiere choreographed by Stefanie Batten Bland, with music by Paul Damien Hogan, inspired by 1967 Stanley Kramer film, La MaMa, $21-$26

Friday, October 4
Saturday, October 5

The Sun Too Close to the Earth, world premiere by Rhys Chatham for nine-piece ensemble, inspired by climate change, along with Le Possédé bass flute solo and On, Suzanne featuring harpist Zeena Parkins and drummer Jonathan Kane, ISSUE Project Room, $25, 8:00

Thursday, October 10
When Birds Refused to Fly, conceived, directed, and choreographed by Olivier Tarpaga, featuring Salamata Kobré, Jean Robert Kiki Koudogbo, Stéphane Michael Nana, and Abdoul Aziz Zoundi, with music by Super Volta and others, FIAF Florence Gould Hall, $15-$35, 7:30

Friday, October 11
Saturday, October 12

Дyми Moï — Dumy Moyi, solo performance by François Chaignaud, the Invisible Dog Art Center, free with RSVP


Carmen Papalia, Mobility Device, 2013. Photo by John Spiak. Courtesy of Grand Central Arts Center.

Carmen Papalia’s Mobility Device moves onto the High Line on September 11-12 (photo by John Spiak; courtesy of Grand Central Arts Center)

The High Line
Wednesday, September 11
6:30 performance begins at 34th St., traveling southeast
7:00 performance begins at the Spur at 30th St., traveling northwest
Thursday, September 12
7:00 performance begins at Gansevoort St., traveling north
7:30 performance begins at 16th St., traveling south
Admission: free, no RSVP required

Originally performed at the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana California in 2013 and two years later at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Carmen Papalia’s Mobility Device now moves to the High Line for site-specific performances on September 11 and 12. Free with no advance RSVP necessary, Mobility Device has two different start times at two distinct locations each night. Artist and disability activist Papalia, a Vancouver native, transforms his detection cane for the event, redefining how public spaces are used by everyone while raising questions of perceptual mobility and accessibility; people with disabilities are strongly encouraged to attend. He will be accompanied by the eighteen-piece Hungry March Band, playing a site-reactive score; the audience can follow the brass ensemble, as if it is a detection cane leading the way for the visually impaired, or find viewing areas, some with seating, along the routes.


Joan Jett Melody Maker, 1977 Gibson (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Joan Jett’s 1977 Melody Maker Gibson is part of Met exhibition “Play It Loud” (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Met Fifth Ave.
Gallery 199
1000 Fifth Ave. at 82nd St.
Through Through October 1, $25 suggested admission

In 2011, the Met hosted “Guitar Heroes: Legendary Craftsmen from Italy to New York,” focusing on the lutherie tradition of Italian Americans in New York and New Jersey, artisans making violins, mandolins, guitars, and other stringed instruments. In the current exhibition “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll,” the Met turns it up to eleven, celebrating the stringed and nonstringed apparatus of rock and pop music since the 1950s. In Mott the Hoople’s 1973 staple “All the Way from Memphis,” Ian Hunter refers to his guitar as a “six-string razor,” an “axe,” and “electric junk.” He continues: “Some dude said, ‘Rock ’n’ rollers, you’re all the same / Man, that’s your instrument.’ / I felt so ashamed.” Ian and Mott might not be represented in the Met exhibit — or in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — but there’s nothing for anyone to be ashamed of regarding this exciting collection of nearly two hundred items, with most of the instruments displayed in vitrines, like sculptural works of art, which of course they are.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Keith Emerson’s 1960s Modified Hammond L-100 organ features two knives Emerson would stab the keys with (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Don’t go straight to the labels, which contain information about who made the instrument and who played it on what songs; it’s a lot of fun trying to figure out whose instrument it is. You’re likely to guess twangers by Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, Prince, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, Ravi Shankar, and Bruce Springsteen, but others will surprise and delight you. One of the first items you’ll encounter is Jerry Lee Lewis’s 1955 Petite Grand Piano; for some reason, the signage refers to Lewis, who is eighty-three, in the past tense. Among the many gems are Chuck Berry’s 1958 Gibson, Louis Jordan’s 1954 Mark VI alto saxophone, Muddy Waters’s 1958 Telecaster known as “the Hoss,” Les Paul’s 1942 “Klunker,” Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 “Love Drops” Flying V, Joni Mitchell’s 1978 GB10NT George Benson Signature, Jack White’s 1964 Airline Res-O-Glas, Joe Perry’s 1985-86 X-100 Blade Runner, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s 1963 “Number One” composite Stratocaster, Robert Trujillo’s 2007–08 “Aztec De La Chloe” five-string bass, Keith Emerson’s 1968 Customized Moog Modular Synthesizer with keyboard, ribbon controllers, and stand, Ian Anderson’s 1975 Model 18-0 flute, Lady Gaga’s 2014 ARTPOP piano with custom housing, and Paul Stanley’s 1979–80 Cracked Mirror Iceman in addition to instruments played by Duane Allman, the Edge, Angus Young, Jeff Beck, Flea, Patti Smith, Ray Manzarek, Paul Butterfield, Nancy Wilson, Clarence Clemons, Steve Vai, Neil Young, Tina Weymouth, Bob Dylan, and dozens more.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Met exhibition is not just about classic guitars (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

These are not mere artifacts; Jerry Garcia’s Wolf was taken out of the museum so John Mayer could play it at a recent Dead & Co. show at CitiField, and a Stones guitar is out on the road with the band right now. There are several striking guitars from Met fave Steve Miller, who will playing a show in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium on September 28 and contributed to the 2011 “Guitar Heroes” exhibit. Don’t miss Kurt Cobain’s destroyed 1993 left-handed Fender Stratocaster, Eric Clapton’s trippy 1964 “The Fool” SG (and the original headstock, which earns its own vitrine), Pete Townshend’s 1973 Gibson SG Special (which he smashed during a photo shoot and is now encased in Lucite), and a fragment of Hendrix’s 1967 Monterey Pop Fender Stratocaster, which he famously lit on fire. Four guitar greats tell their stories in a circular case that houses their gear and video monitors: Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Eddie Van Halen, and Tom Morello. (Having seen Morello shred live, I understand exactly why he’s part of this elite quartet.) Several bands display their stage setup, including the Beatles, the Who, Metallica, and the Roots. The exhibition, which was inspired by Brad Tolinski and Alan di Perna’s book Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound, and Revolution of the Electric Guitar and is co-organized by the Met’s Jayson Kerr Dobney and the Hall of Fame’s Craig J. Inciardi, is supplemented by vintage concert posters by Lee Conklin, Bonnie MacLean, Rick Griffin, and others. It’s easy to argue why certain musicians are not part of the show (What, no Richard Thompson or Lou Reed?!? Where’s Ritchie Blackmore, Bob Mould, and Johnny Ramone?), but it’s better to just enjoy who is in it. Below are the remaining special events being held in conjunction with the exhibition, which runs through October 1.

Prince Love Symbol, 1993

Prince’s 1993 Love Symbol captures his trademark glyph (photo by Cathy Hapka for twi-ny)

Saturday, September 7
Black Rock Coalition: History of Our Future, with the BRC Orchestra, Fantastic Negrito, Nona Hendryx, Vernon Reid, Corey Glover, and Will Calhoun, “Captain” Kirk Douglas, Stew, the Family Stand, Carl Hancock Rux, and Toshi Reagon, Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, $25, 7:00

Sunday, September 8
Sunday at the Met — Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll, panel discussion with Anthony DeCurtis, David Fricke, Holly George-Warren, Jayson Dobney, and Craig J. Inciardi, Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, free with Museum admission, 2:00

Friday, September 13
MetFridays: Play It Loud — ETHEL and Friends: Four for Fighting, Great Hall Balcony Bar, 5:00–8:00; screening of Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970), Bonnie J. Sacerdote Lecture Hall, 6:00; Conversations with . . . curators Jayson Dobney and Craig J. Inciardi, Gallery 199, 6:00; Signs and Symbols of Rock and Roll, with designers from ThoughtMatter, a band-name generator, and a button workshop, Great Hall, 6:00; Building Instruments with Atelier Rosenkrantz, Gallery 681, 6:00; Tie-Dye Workshop, Carroll Classroom, 6:00; Reflections on Woodstock with Chris Molanphy, Art Study Room, 6:30; Lez Zeppelin Live, preceded by discussion with Steph Paynes and Brad Tolinski, free with advance RSVP, Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, 7:15; all free with museum admission, 5:00–9:00

Saturday, September 28
Steve Miller Band and Jimmie Vaughan Band in Concert, Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, 7:00



Joanne Akalaitis’s site-specific Bad News! I Was There . . . leads small audiences through the Skirball Center

NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
566 La Guardia Pl.
September 6 - December 9

NYU Skirball’s mission is to “present work that inspires yet frustrates, confirms yet confounds, entertains yet upends.” They are staying true to their goals with an extremely impressive and daring fall season of music, theater, dance, literature, and talks. The season gets under way September 6-8 ($40) with the New York City premiere of former New York Shakespeare Festival head and five-time Obie winner Joanne Akalaitis’s Bad News! I Was There . . . , a site-specific performance in English, Greek, French, and German that takes four groups through the lobby, dressing room, and backstage area of the theater, mixing in sung and spoken excerpts from classic Greek tragedy. “‘I was there’ is a refrain heard every day on the news, often followed by ‘How can this happen? What’s wrong here? What should we do?’” Akailitis says about the show.

Philippe Quesne’s The Moles, set in a world without humans and words, consists of four presentation September 12-14: “Parade of the Moles,” a free tour of Greenwich Village on Thursday at 2:00; “Night of the Moles” on Friday and Saturday night ($30, 7:30), taking place in a burrow; and the family-friendly “Afternoon of the Moles” on Saturday afternoon ($20, 7:30), as the Moles form a punk band. If you missed Sam Mendes’s brilliant production of The Lehman Trilogy at the Park Avenue Armory, you can catch one of two “National Theatre Live” screenings at the Skirball on September 15 ($25, 2:00 & 7:00) On September 16, “NYU Writes: A Celebration of Writers and Writing at NYU” brings together Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Safran Foer, Terrance Hayes, Yusef Komunyakaa, Nick Laird, Sharon Olds, and Zadie Smith, hosted by Deborah Landau (free with advance RSVP, 7:00).

(photo by Andrew Lieberman)

Daniel Fish reimagines Don DeLillo’s White Noise in multimedia production (photo by Andrew Lieberman)

Tony nominee Daniel Fish follows up his controversial reimagining of Oklahoma! with White Noise, a seventy-minute multimedia show “freely inspired” by Don DeLillo’s 1985 National Book Award-winning novel. Zoe Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez, and Adrienne Truscott take on critics in Wild Bore September 27-28 ($35-$45, 7:30). And that just takes us through September; below are some of the highlights from October to December:

Sunday, October 6
National Theatre Live: Fleabag, $25, 7:00

Friday, October 11
Saturday, October 12

John Kelly: Underneath the Skin, $35-$45, 7:30

John Kelly channels Samuel Steward in show at Skirball

John Kelly channels Samuel Steward in show at Skirball

Friday, October 18
Saturday, October 19

ICE: George Lewis’s Soundlines — A Dreaming Track, $35-$45, 7:30

Friday, October 25
Saturday, October 26

Mette Ingvartsen: to come (extended), US premiere, $35-$45, 7:30

Friday, November 8
Saturday, November 9

Big Dance Theater: The Road Awaits Us, Ballet, Cage Shuffle: Redux, $35-$45, 7:30

Friday, December 7
Saturday, December 8

The Builders Association: Elements of Oz, $20-$25, 7:30


George Fok, "Passing Through," 2017. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Frederick Charles

George Fok’s Passing Through is centerpiece of Leonard Cohen show at Jewish Museum (courtesy of the artist / photo by Frederick Charles)

The Jewish Museum
1109 Fifth Ave. at 92nd St.
Through September 8, $8-$18, pay-what-you-wish Thursday from 5:00 - 8:00, free Saturday

In an October 2016 Q&A at the Canadian Consulate in LA, Leonard Cohen explained, “Uh, I said I was ready to die recently. And I think I was exaggerating. I’ve always been into self-dramatization. I intend to live forever.” Leonard Norman Cohen died the next month at the age of eighty-two, leaving behind a legacy that might just live forever, as evidenced by the sensational exhibition “Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything” that continues at the Jewish Museum through September 8. Curated by John Zeppetelli and Victor Shiffman for the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal in Cohen’s beloved hometown, the show is an ingenious exploration of the life and career of the singer-songwriter, poet, novelist, visual artist, Buddhist monk, father, grandfather, Sabbath-observant Jew, and elegant raconteur.

Named after a quote from his song “Anthem” from the 1992 album The Future — “Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack, a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in” — the three-floor multimedia exhibit consists of thirteen installations by artists repurposing and recontextualizing Cohen’s words and images. The centerpiece is George Fok’s nearly hourlong Passing Through, a nine-channel video across three walls of a large room in which visitors can sit on benches or beanbag chairs; the piece features concert and backstage footage ranging from Cohen’s early days to his final tour in 2013, merging together performances of the same songs through the years, including “Hallelujah,” “Tower of Song,” “Suzanne,” “I’m Your Man,” “Chelsea Hotel #2,” and “First We Take Manhattan,” revealing how he adapted his unique trademark vocal phrasings as he got older. Kara Blake’s The Offerings is a five-channel video that compiles thirty-five minutes of interviews in which Cohen discusses his writing process and some of his life choices, from moving to Greece to becoming a monk. In Ari Folman’s Depression Chamber, the director of such films as Waltz with Bashir and The Congress invites people one at a time to spend five minutes in a dark room, lying on a bed as Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” plays, the lyrics coming alive in mesmerizing, meaningful ways. At the other end of the hall, more than two hundred of Cohen’s self-portrait drawings from 2003 to 2016 are projected on a loop, edited together by Alexandre Perreault.

Candice Breitz, "I'm Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen)," 2017. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Frederick Charles

Candice Breitz’s I’m Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen) consists of eighteen fans singing all of 1988 Cohen comeback album (courtesy of the artist / photo by Frederick Charles)

Candice Breitz’s two-part I’m Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen) begins with a video of the all-male Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir, from Cohen’s longtime shul, singing only the background vocals to every tune on Cohen’s extraordinary 1988 comeback album, I’m Your Man (“First We Take Manhattan,” “Ain’t No Cure for Love,” “Everybody Knows,” “Take This Waltz,” “Tower of Song,” the title track, et al.); down a narrow path blanketed by red curtains, eighteen Cohen fans sing the main lyrics to the songs, each on their own screen and speaker. For the best effect, walk around the room and then into the hall to find the exact spot where the lead vocals and harmonies merge. Audiences can participate in Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s The Poetry Machine, a vintage Wurlitzer organ with an array of speakers and gramophone horns; guests can take a seat and press down the keys, each of which connects to Cohen’s voice reading poems from his 2006 Book of Longing. You can also sit or lie down on a bench and hum “Hallelujah” into any of several dangling microphones in Daily tous les jours’ Heard There Was a Secret Chord, joining a chorus of live hummers online.

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, "The Poetry Machine," 2017. Courtesy of the artists; Luhring Augustine, New York; Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco; and Gallery Koyanagi, Tokyo. Photo: Frederick Charles

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s The Poetry Machine invites visitors to take a seat (courtesy of the artists; Luhring Augustine, New York; Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco; and Gallery Koyanagi, Tokyo / photo by Frederick Charles)

On the third floor is a listening room where you can relax and hear specially commissioned Cohen cover songs while immersed in a James Turrell–like display of changing colors and shapes; the setlist includes Feist’s “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” Dear Criminals’ “Anthem,” Ariane Moffatt and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal’s “Famous Blue Raincoat,” Moby’s “Suzanne,” Chilly Gonzales, Jarvis Cocker, and Kaiser Quartett’s “Paper Thin Hotel,” and the National, Sufjan Stevens, Ragnar Kjartansson, and Richard Reed Parry’s “Memories.” There are also contributions from Christophe Chassol, Kota Ezawa, Jon Rafman, Taryn Simon (linking Cohen’s death with the election of Donald Trump), and Tacita Dean (a sweet tribute to “Bird on the Wire”) along with extensive biographical text in one area. It all comes together to paint a magnificent portrait of an exceptional artist who continually challenged himself and his audience, a highly intelligent storyteller and performer who seemed to exist on his own plane. “I never had the sense that there was an end. That there was a retirement or that there was a jackpot, Cohen told Paul Zollo in an 1990s interview. With “Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything,” fans hit the jackpot with a potpourri of phenomenal proportion. (On August 29, the Jewish Museum and Russ & Daughters are hosting the final “Cocktails with Cohen,” in which, from 5:30 to 7:30, visitors can partake of the Red Needle, a drink invented by Cohen in 1975 consisting of tequila, cranberry juice, lemon, and ice. Beer, wine, and other drinks will also be available for purchase.)


(Little Fang Photo)

Strat (Andrew Polec) and Raven (Christina Bennington) take off like bats out of hell in Jim Steinman musical (Little Fang Photo)

New York City Center
130 West 56th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 8, $49-$249

When I took my seat at Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell at City Center last week, there was already a buzz of excitement in the air just before the lights went down, like before a rock concert. Everything hushed for a moment and then exploded: Meat Loaf had entered the building. Mr. Marvin Lee Aday, better known by his beefy appellation, had come to see the show for the first time in New York City. BOOH is an extravaganza based on the three albums he made with Steinman, 1977’s Bat Out of Hell, 1993’s Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell, and 2006’s Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose. His entrance recalled Gene Wilder’s initial appearance in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as the seventy-one-year-old Meat Loaf, who has multiple health issues, moved very slowly, relying on a cane to walk. Fans congregated around him for selfies anyway, but eventually darkness came and the show went on. It was more fun watching Meat Loaf himself taking his seat; you can throw just about anything you want into a meatloaf and still end up with a satisfying dish, but you can’t do that with a fully fledged musical that’s charging up to $225 a ticket.

(Little Fang Photo)

Falco (Bradley Dean) and Sloane (Lena Hall) search for paradise by the dashboard light in Bat Out of Hell (Little Fang Photo)

Bat Out of Hell: The Musical is fifty years in the making, beginning with Steinman’s Brecht-inspired Baal in 1968 and his Peter Pan-influenced Neverland in 1977. This final version debuted in February 2017 at the Manchester Opera House and has been touring the world; it continues at City Center through September 8, but I can’t recommend you get tickets as soon as possible because the show is an absolute mess, nay, a nearly complete disaster, starting with the opening piece, “Love and Death and an American Guitar,” a two-character narration that just might be the worst first few minutes of a major musical I have ever seen. For the next two and a half hours, things occasionally got better — there are even a few dazzling highlights — as Steinman and director Jay Scheib evoke such wide-ranging shows and movies as Grease, The Warriors, Romeo & Juliet, Mad Max, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, Godspell, and Peter Pan, all of which are far superior to this head-scratchingly bizarre weirdness that is all revved up with no place to go.

The story takes place in 2030 in a postapocalyptic Manhattan, now known as Obsidian, that has been drifting out at sea after an unnamed “cataclysmic event.” The city is run with an iron fist by Falco (Bradley Dean), whose wife, Sloane (Tony winner Lena Hall), is bored and drinks too much; their daughter, Raven (Christina Bennington), wants to break out of her sheltered, pampered existence as she turns eighteen. For no apparent reason, she falls in love with Strat (Andrew Polec), the ersatz leader of a group of homeless kids known as the Lost, living under the ruins of the American Museum of Natural History, by an abandoned tunnel and skeevy bar called the Deep End. (Much of that information comes from perusing the actual script; the details are nowhere to be found onstage.) The headstrong Falco is ready to do everything in his power to keep Strat and Raven apart, including using the military force of his armed units. The cataclysm has frozen the disenchanted youths in time; the Lost are all eighteen years old, condemned never to grow into adulthood. “To be forever eighteen and irresponsible? It’d be fucking great,” Sloane tells Raven. Except maybe not.

(Little Fang Photo)

The Lost fight the power, battling Falco, in City Center show (Little Fang Photo)

Among the other members of the Lost are Strat’s right-hand man, Jagwire (Tyrick Wiltez Jones), who has the hots for the bold Zahara (Danielle Steers); the trio of Ledoux (Billy Lewis Jr.), Valkyrie (Jessica Jaunich), and Kwaidan (Kayla Cyphers), who occasionally find themselves front and center; and Tink (Avionce Hoyles), a fairy-like character (think Tinker Bell) who also is in love with Strat and who resents being frozen several years before he turned eighteen, so everyone treats him like a little kid. The dilapidated set, by costume designer Jon Bausor, features a slanted glass high-rise where Falco, Sloane, and Raven live; we can often see inside Raven’s window as she writes in a notebook or fights with her parents. Those scenes are usually accompanied by a videographer who films what is happening, which is annoyingly and confusingly live-streamed on a far wall. (The video design is by the usually inventive and dependable Finn Ross.)

The music, for the most part, is fine; musical director Ryan Cantwell and orchestrator Steve Sidwell don’t futz around too much with the original arrangements, and the pit band, comprising three keyboardists, two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, and a percussionist, does justice to such songs as “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” (sung beautifully by Jones and Steers), “Heaven Can Wait,” the poignant ensemble piece “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are,” “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night),” “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” and “Bat Out of Hell,” but Xena Gusthart’s choreography is baffling when it isn’t downright, er, batty. If you do choose to see the show, don’t miss the inexplicable movements of what appears to be a group of pansexual Oompa Loompas during a wild version of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” manically performed in flashback by Dean and Hall. And if you’re wondering how Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” ended up here, it’s because Steinman wrote it for Meat Loaf, who turned it down for financial reasons.

(Little Fang Photo)

Bat Out of Hell: The Musical explodes with bizarre moments (Little Fang Photo)

While there are some fine ingredients — Bennington, Hall, Jones, and Steers are standouts — the result is significantly less than savory. Fortunately, the night I went, Meat Loaf eventually stored away his cane and joined the cast for an encore of “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)”; he might not be in top form, but he is a force of nature, one of the most charismatic, magnetic characters ever to grab a mic, and it was a thrill to see him onstage again, even after the cataclysmic disaster that preceded him, leaving us with an ultracool dessert to finish off an otherwise dreadfully disappointing meal.