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Baz Lurhmann Musical Mashup Is 'Immersive, Interactive' Fun
Baz Luhrmann's films The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet and Strictly Ballroom get mashed up in a new over-the-top cabaret experience that debuted Thursday night at Rockwell: Table & Stage. Opening night saw a cast including Rumer Willis as Juliet rock the crowd, which included her mom, Demi Moore.
The latest "For the Record" show is the brainchild of Christopher Lloyd Bratten and Shane Scheel, who, with director Anderson Davis, have previously served up homages to directors Martin Scorsese, the Coen Bros. and Paul Thomas Anderson.
Bratten says that Luhrmann saw the previous incarnation of the show (without the Gatsby component) and called it a "fucking out-of-body experience." But he hasn't yet seen the revised version because he's in Australia prepping a new stage musical version of Strictly Ballroom.
The opening night cast was one that won't be easily duplicated since each role is triple cast, meaning on any given night, you'll see different stars playing Daisy from The Great Gatsby, Christian from Moulin Rouge and so on.
The shows take place at the newly expanded Rockwell: Table & Stage in Los Feliz; diners are smack in the middle of the action as the performances take place all around the audience. You might have Satine fainting into your bacon mac and cheese or turn around to have Juliet singing "Love Fool" on her balcony to Romeo, who's standing a few feet away.
As the stories from the films overlap, you'll see Gatsby pop up as Tybalt and as "The Argentinian" who sings "Roxanne" in Moulin Rouge. As Juliet, Willis not only speaks Shakespeare to Romeo, she's also Daisy's best friend in Gatsby, where she sings the jazz-age version of Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love." Some of the brilliant crossover moments include Romeo (as played by Payson Lewis on opening night) belting out the heartrending tune "Love is Blindness" from Gatsby after killing Tybalt and again after hearing Juliet is dead.
It all makes for a dizzying, emotional, highly entertaining evening with nods not only to the songs from each film, but style cues, including Claire Danes's angel wings from the 1997 film and costumes that look exactly like the ones Nicole Kidman wore as Satine.
I got to talk to some of the cast and creators before they went on:
- Genifer King, who also stars on "The Haunted Hathaways" on Nickelodeon, wowed the crowd as sexy Satine. "This is such a passion project. I love getting to be a part of the 'For the Record' series. It's live, it's total, 360-degree concert experience, we're bringing these movies to life. It's not like anything anyone's seen before.As an actor, you're getting to sing some of the best songs ever written."
- Steve Mazurek, who's performed in all the "For the Record" shows, plays Christian from Moulin Rouge and Tom Buchanan in Romeo + Juliet says that while the music director spends at least a month plotting out the show, the cast only gets about 14 days of rehearsal. "It really is a lot of work," he says, "But one of the best things about this group is you never know who you're going to go on with and everybody's very different. The director really fosters everyone's originality and individuality. It keeps very fresh. Scorsese has, like, 44 movies, so you have to play a lot of characters. Baz Luhrmann only has four, so it's much easier to stick with the storylines.
- Charissa Hogeland (Daisy Buchanan) previously performed in the John Hughes showcase. "Every track is triple cast because we're all working actors and actresses," she says. "This show is not as crazy, but in the last show, I played 11 characters. Doing Rockwell is what keeps me sane as an artist. This is a family and there's way less rules and you get to do way more exciting stuff. It's just more fun.
- Jackie Seiden, whose roles include the film New Year's Eve, plays Fran from "Strictly Ballroom." She says she learned her Australian accent from Rumer Willis. "Rumer actually has an amazing accent, so I asked her to read all my lines. It's the lighter part of the show because the other stories have tragic endings and 'Strictly Ballroom' has a happy ending."
- Rumer Willis made her debut with the "For the Record" crew with this production, and this is her first musical theater experience. About paying homage to the original film, which starred Claire Danes, she says, "With all of this, we're not trying to copy anyone, we're just trying to bring it to life in a new way. Especially in the way that we put the scenes together. It's our own version. We're sticking to the emotions, but we all get to have our different funny things we bring to the main part. The main thing is that it's all star-crossed lovers is finding the throughline through the whole story."
- Ciaran McCarthy, who plays Gatsby and a number of other roles, also played in "For the Record: Robert Zemeckis." He says, "If you've seen the movies, it kind of helps, but you see the references to certain films and some audiences get more than others, as soon as the 'Elephant Love Medley' comes on from Moulin Rouge, audiences start singing along. And that kind of helps us. We encourage audience participation. We love the clapping and we're okay with [people taking] pictures. It's a totally different environment, it's way more immersive, way more interactive."
- Christopher Lloyd Bratten, musical director and co-creator, tells us, "We had done Baz Luhrmann before, before Gatsby. We did the 'The Red Curtain Trilogy'; that was in our old space before the wall came down, just an old 80-seater.
- Anderson Davis, director, says, "We completely reinvented the Baz show, mostly because we realized there was this really strong theme of star-crossed lovers. Even with 'Strictly Ballroom,' which is kind of a silly story, it's about two people who can't fall in love… but they have to fall in love! It's actually one of my favorites."
- Bratten: "It's really fun to work on how those stories intertwine, not just thematically but also with the songs. You use one song from movie that leads us right into a story from a different movie. There's something really fun about taking someone like Baz Luhrmann, who's a movie maker, who's larger than life and create a new show out of it."
- Davis: "Each show demands its own major challenges. Our was how do we take this Baz show and tell one story and make it feel like you're taken through a real arc through the night? I think we've done a decent job of making people understand not only which movie they're in, but where we are within the arc of the story. Lovers fall in love and then the conflict and then someone dies."
- Bratten: Tim Burton is next. I think the challenge will be to create that world. How do you make the audience feel when they step into a restaurant they're actually stepping into a Tim Burton dining expert. It just depends on how long this one runs. Hopefully we'll get people to come out and see this one, but I think it's tentatively scheduled for around Halloween.
If you're a fan of any or all of Luhrmann's films, you must catch the show, which only costs $12.50 (food, drinks and valet parking not included). Some of the drinks created just for the show include "Old Sport" (cognac with fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and orange juice), "Diamond Dog," (absinthe, St. Germain and sparkling wine), and "Tina Sparkle," (tequila, fresh grapefruit, lime and agave). The show runs through October 19. Tickets available here.