Tulips in an odd key

Tulipomania: The Musical, Book, Music, Lyrics, by Michael Ogborn, Directed by Terence J. Nolen, At the Arden Theatre, May 30-July 1, 2012

Three Michaels have told the story of the tulip’s 17th century boom and bust. Two are non- fiction. Now comes  Michael Ogborn’s Tulipomania: The Musical, at the Arden.  It’s a crazy mixed- up piece of theater. On purpose, I’m sure.  Tulipomania, which borrows from the Mike Dash book and surely the Michael Pollan is a musical comedy and a morality play.  It’s the first musical the Arden ever commissioned. The Arden’s Terry Nolen is directing (as he did Ogborn’s Cafe Puttanesca).

Tulipomania begins in an Amsterdam hash bar where the owner tells strangers the story of the tulip craze. Jeff Coon has an appealing accent that passes for Dutch, and he’s always an appealing singer. His presence is affecting but the role – in fact the musical is overloaded with messageguilt, risk, redemption – like one of those greeting cards that cost too much.

As the tulip tale gets told the Americans in the bar double as the people whose lives were shattered by the Great Tulip Craze of 1636. It doesn’t really work. The set doesn’t change, the costumes are grunge – contemporary – and the music is so Broadway style generic.  It moves from “What have you got to lose?”  with it’s New Age feeling to a Gospel-rousing- audience clap along.

Tulipomania: The Musical tells more than shows.  The lyrics are often cliched.  The score is predictable. But Adam Kazemi’s band (sax, reeds, cello, bass, guitar, flute, keyboard) steps above the bohemian cafe does a good job .  If  generic Broadway musical pop makes you smile,  smile away.

Terry Nolan directs a fine ensemble who could do so much better if  Tulipomania itself were tighter.  Coon, always sings wells, mostly so does Ben Dibble, who plays a painter in both centuries.  Adam Heller plays  a dot-com crook in hiding with a mordant, comic vein.  Singing’s not his forte.  Alex Keiper and Joilet F. Harris do well as women on a business  conference but the roles aren’t very interesting.  Billy Bustamante enlivens Tulipomania as the dancing Waiter.

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