Loving Repeating: A Musical of Gertrude Stein

Loving Repeating: A Musical of Gertrude Stein at International City Theatre in Long Beach is an odd piece of musical theatre.

Though clever in how it mimics Stein’s idiosyncratic writing style, especially in her use of humor and repetition, the musical is less effective conveying the eccentricity of her life.

It was from her home in Paris that she coined the expression “the lost generation” to describe her fellow Bohemians who exiled themselves from 1920s America and flocked to the grand salons of the City of Light. There expatriate writers and musicians rubbed elbows with Cubist and modernist artists like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

To be fair, it was never the creative team’s intent to make a typical biographical musical. Content often dictates form, but they’ve gone so far in loyalty to Stein’s literary styling they have managed to manufacture a baffling piece of art. An in-depth course in Stein’s writing should not be the prerequisite for appreciating this musical, as it seems to be.

The show is pinned to the conceit of an older Stein (Cheryl David) giving a lecture, which leads to her musing on her past in the form of a younger self (Shannon Warne) as she meets and falls in love with Alice B. Toklas (Melissa Lyons Caldretti). Their lifelong relationship forms the center of this chamber piece wherein Ragtime’s Stephan Flaherty sets Stein’s poems to music, as adapted by Frank Galati. The set – two giant trees curved to form a valentine heart, makes that point clear.

With an additional number of members added to the cast to harmonize much of the show, the music is mostly ragtime and bluesy song-and-dance numbers reminiscent of the music of Stein’s era. The musical’s nonlinear and abstract structure is a perfect complement for showcasing Stein’s poetry, but it falls short of revealing connections between writer and her art.

That Stein was known for her repetitious writing (“A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” and “my wife is my life is my life is my wife is my wife is my life…”) is a given. When these words are simply molded into songs, it diminishes the power of her language. It’s a shame that the musical doesn’t get into her politics, her art collection or the famous and eccentric coterie that populated her salon – it would have helped anchor the abstract portion of the play with a context.

Instead, we’re reminded of another musical that took a prolific writer’s poetry and set it to music. But Cats didn’t touch upon Eliot the man or seek to convey the writer through his writing. A biographical work requires so much more of its lyrics than mere musicalization. With abstraction piled on abstruseness, by the time we get to the end and Toklas’ description of Stein’s final days, we’re so exhausted from trying to fit the pieces together we just don’t honestly care anymore.

As a whole, Loving Repeating will delight hardcore Stein fans already familiar with her writing. As to the rest of us, though certainly entertained by the excellent cast and caryn desai’s energetic direction, perhaps we can be forgiven for recalling Stein’s observation that “a real failure does not need an excuse. It is an end in itself.”

Performances through February 13 at the International City Theater at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 East Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, CA 90802 Box Office: 562-436-4610 or online at www.itclongbeach.org.

Larry Blum: Blink and You Might Miss Me

Larry Blum is as ubiquitous as the celebrities with whom he frequently rubs shoulders, and though you may think you’ve never seen him — trust me — you have. You just didn’t know it at the time.

So, to start off his one-man show Blink and You Might Miss Me Mr. Blum offers a short clip of his work. There is Meryl Streep accepting her 2010 Golden Globe for Julie and Julia. If you look slightly past her, and carefully (with Blum providing visual aid with his handy red laser pointer) you’ll see that, indeed, he was there – holding her arm as he escorts her up the stairs.

Larry Blum is an on-camera escort and he’s led countless actresses to the stage to accept an award, including Streep, Helen Mirren, and Susan Lucci at her historic Emmy win. He’s been on every major award ceremony, but that’s not all.

His TV credits include Roseanne, The Golden Girls, and The Jeffersons. He has been seen on just about every daytime drama from The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful, to General Hospital and Days of Our Lives.

Larry Blum has, in fact, done it all.

His return to the stage in Blink and You Might Miss Me is a comedic recap of his varied career from his theatre beginnings dancing in stock productions with Lucie Arnaz, Phyllis Newman, and Van Johnson to playing Greg in the international company of A Chorus Line. As he recounts his history, he stops on occasion to dish out some juicy gossip about his varied career.

Larry Blum, who also wrote the material, is not a stand up comedian but he manages to bring the audience to laughter consistently throughout this sixty-five minute show, every now and then, pulling out a momento from those laugh-out loud memories. Stan Zimmerman’s direction keeps the show concise and focused. It’s an enjoyable night of storytelling, Hollywood gossip, and a recap of an illustrious career that is slightly under the radar but rife with fabulous glamour.

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