When Disaster! is funny, it’s as funny as any show in the city. And you will simply not hear the 1970s disco and pop rock songs that make up its score sung better anywhere – in some cases they outshine the original. That said, like most parodies Disaster! is quite uneven; a there are a bunch of jokes that don’t really land, and some scenes that definitely take too long to make their point.
This production features some of the most beautiful singing I’ve heard at the Met this season, but the real star is conductor Vladimir Jurowski, who took composer Richard Strauss’s already gorgeous orchestrations into new realms of sumptuousness and luminosity. The late Herbert Wernicke’s visually stunning production (restaged by J. Knighten Smit), does Hugo Hofmannsthal’s strange libretto many favors, but Die Frau Ohne Schatten is still a fundamentally problematic piece, even by the reality-optional standards of opera (those standards, by the way, is one of the reasons this surrealist is steadily gaining a taste for the form).
Playwright/actor J. Stephen Brantley (pictured above, right) set his gay-themed play Pirira during the July 20, 2011 riots in the African nation of Malawi. As that country erupts in riots, American aid workers Jack and Ericka take shelter in the storage room of a struggling NGO. Half a world away, Malawian student Gilbert and his gay co-worker Chad begin another day in the back room of a Manhattan florist. By the day’s end, they discover their lives are inextricably linked across continents, language, and time. I asked Brantley to provide some insight into this intriguing work.
What is Pirira about?
This high-spirited revue aims to capture the music and dancing of the Cotton Club, especially as led by its most famous bandleader Duke Ellington (with a significant nod to his successor, Cab Calloway). That’s the entire aim of After Midnight, and it succeeds marvelously, though more than once I found myself wishing it had tried for more.