Saturday, August 6, 2016

LUDO'S BROKEN BRIDE: Great Music and Lots of Potential, But Too Convoluted in its Current State

Brian Charles Rooney leads troop of demonic dancers
Jeremy Daniel Photo

Time travelers beware:  Messing around with events during your wanderings may trigger the “butterfly effect,” that cornerstone concept drawn from science fiction and chaos theory which posits that interfering with history can have unpredictable long-term consequences anywhere along the timestream.

Thus it is with Ludo’s Broken Bride, a convoluted romantic science fiction jukebox musical built around the catalog of songs by the alternative rock band Ludo, that ended its short run today as part of the New York Musical Festival.  

In its current form, the still-evolving show is decidedly perplexing, especially in its second half.  But if nothing else, the NYMF production ought to result in a bunch of new fans for Ludo, a high-octane band that may remind you of Green Day. This is not a bad thing. Like Green Day, Ludo offers up exciting, intelligent, and thoroughly compelling music and lyrics. Green Day’s songs were the basis for American Idiot, the musical about disaffected youth that ran on Broadway in 2010-2011. There is no reason to believe Ludo’s Broken Bride, adapted by Stacey Weingarten (with additional story components by Dana Levinson) cannot continue to develop along a similar pathway.    

Meanwhile, there is the NYMF presentation that originated with the band’s initial 30-minute concept EP recording, also called Broken Bride, released in 2005. Ms. Weingarten (who co-directed this production with Donna Drake) began working on the theatrical adaption five years later, and, as she indicates in the program notes, “there’s still a ways to go.”  

Call it truth in advertising. At this stage, there is an unfortunate disconnect between the songs and the multiple and disparate plot elements that unfold on stage after a strong beginning. 

Act I gets off solidly, doing a good job of laying out both the romantic and the science fiction plot elements. When we first meet Thomas, he is stranded millions of years in the past as a result of a time machine miscalculation. We quickly understand both his motivation and what went wrong as he sings the show’s title song, containing the lyrics:

I crashed before the birth of Christ
Pterodactyls swarming
You died in 1989
Want to get back to that morning

He also has scribbled a number of mathematical formulas on the wall of a cave, along with the words:  “I will save you. I will return and bring you back from death.” Immediately, we’re set up with the central conflict. Will Thomas be able to conquer time and fulfill his promise?  

Much of the rest of the first act sends us on a flashback, during which we bear witness as a younger Thomas meets, falls in love with, and marries Oriel. As portrayed through the script and in the fine performances in this production (Carson Higgins as Thomas the Time Traveler, Michael Jayne Walker as his younger self, and Gabrielle McClinton as Oriel), the characters exude romantic charm by the bucketful. They immediately win our hearts, and we root for Thomas to somehow get back to the fateful day in order to prevent whatever it was that took Oriel’s life at the age of 25, chaos theory be damned. 

So pretty much all of Act I is logical, clear, and emotionally engaging.  But then (and I am now surmising), the butterfly effect kicks in. With the aid of a prehistoric dog/rodent-like critter he dubs “Hawking” (great puppet design by Sierra Schoening and equally great puppet work by Brendan Malafronte), Thomas manages to get back to the year in which he designed the time-traveling device, 15 years after his target date. But the world he encounters is not the one he left behind. Instead, it is in apocalyptic disarray, lorded over by a demonic character (brilliantly played and sung by Brian Charles Rooney), who has taken over and is on a killing spree.  

Much of Act II is concerned with this alternative universe, triggered (and I surmise again) by Thomas’s damage to the timestream. That some such disarray would occur makes sense in the world of science fiction logic, but what happens in Act II seems to belong to an entirely different show than the one we watched in Act I. Worse, despite the excellent songs that have been culled from the Ludo catalog, these seem to exist separately from the plot – a concert overlapping with a play, like some strange dubbing accident. 

There is a lot that needs to be fixed here before Ludo’s Broken Bride is truly ready to be performed as a rock musical (rather than as a straight-up concert). The potential is there, but Ms. Weingarten and the rest of the creative team need to find their way into and through Act II and to connect Ludo’s music directly with the story. Oh, and please find more for Hawking to do; he’s a real star in the making!  

Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the new website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics.  

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