In the whiskey-swigging, boot-stomping rock musical Bloodsong of Love, Joe Iconis puts a new spin on the classic Spaghetti-Western formula. The villain plays a mean kazoo, a one-eyed bartender’s poor aim impedes a saloon shootout, and the hero roams the Wild West with a guitar on his back and a song in his heart.
Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis
It begins with searing guitar chords, pulsating drums, and an ensemble of outlaws singing their way onstage. The Narrator (Jason “SweetTooth” William) emerges, grabbing attention with his soulful spoken-word baritone, even as the outlaws climb onto chairs and counters, stomping around in impossible-to-ignore cowboy boots as they unapologetically shout their refrain, “Wanted here, wanted here, wanted here!”
Similar to the glib, slightly cynical world of Stephen Sondheim, who flirts with historical fiction or makes us see fairytale characters in a new light, writer Joe Iconis has reinvented the familiar. Rooted in culture yet full of inventive whimsy, disciplined yet risk-taking, Bloodsong of Love tells the story of a wronged hero known only as The Musician (Eric William Morris), and his search for his kidnapped bride, Violetta (MK Lawson).
If imitation is truly the most sincere form of flattery, this boilerplate plot shows Iconis’ dedication to the Spaghetti-Western genre. Everything from the cast, to the costumes, to the music, all play right into what has been coined as “a rock ‘n’ roll Spaghetti Western.” The Musician, for example, is a square-jawed, steely-eyed cowboy with a five o’clock shadow. However, Morris doesn’t just rely on his handsome appearance to pull off the role: he plays The Musician with a droll intelligence that feeds right into Iconis’ writing. When approached by an oversized toad one lonely night in the desert, Morris gives it one long look, then picks it up and licks from forehead to tailbone, which results in a hallucinogenic stupor. He trusts Iconis’ knack for zany plot elements, and it pays off: even this bit is believable to the audience.
The dedicated supporting cast all approach their characters with a similar blend of zest and restaint. They push the envelope to complement Iconis’ wry humor, but keep it contained enough to match the setting and archetypes they portray. Katrina Rose Dideriksen, for example steals scenes with her wide country smile and scheming eyes. Her dangerous sexiness can be seen even when aiming a shotgun with curlers in her hair as the wife of The Musician’s sidekick Banana (Lance Rubin), or hobbling around on crutches as a footless prostitute. In songs like “Don’t Ya Make Me Ask Ya Twice (Part I)” and “Shoot ‘Em Up”, she sings with rowdy, reckless conviction and perfect pitch. There’s also Jeremy Morse, who brings a frenetic energy to the kooky Le Cocodrilo, the bride-stealing bad guy. Short, blue-eyed, and Caucasian, Morse plays Le Cocodrilo with a Mexican accent and macho swagger–like Morris, he uses confidence and consistency to gain credibility. He succeeds, convincing the skeptics in the crowd that he’s “bad ass,” especially with the menacingly sick jokes and violent, seductive dance moves in his solo “Turkey Leg”.
“Turkey Leg” also highlights musical conductor and pianist Matthew Hinkley, who, seated center stage, is obviously having fun with Iconis’ original music. While each song has some elements of country music, Iconis once again provides contemporary liberties to old standards. With this blessing, Hinkley gives a hurried feeling to upbeat tempos that depict character conflict or plot setbacks, but also slows it down and draw it out, as he does for the morbid ballad “Lovesong of Blood.” Guitarists Chris “Red” Blisset and Michael James Taylor provide the band with an authentic country twang, while the percussion section (Brent Stranathan on Drums and Danny Stone on bass) keep things animated with their skilled and energetic accompaniment.
Costume and set designers Michelle Eden Humphrey and Michael Schweikardt provide the visuals for a true Western setting, already outlined by the characters and music, with well-integrated wardrobes and scenery. The women wear skirts and corsets, the men don cowboy hats and ties. Everything they sit or stand on is made from hardwood, and there are even Wanted posters of each character covering the stage right wall. Schweikardt has also installed a treadmill in the stage floor to simulate endless, tireless walking. Lighting designer Chris Dallos updates these visuals with rock star glamour, including white-hot spotlights, electric purples and pinks, and warm blues and yellows. Before it gets moved to a larger venue with pricier tickets, see this show and order whiskey at intermission. Bloodsong of Love is wanted here.
Bloodsong of Love (2 hours 30 minutes; one intermission)
Ars Nova (511 West 54th Street)
Performances (through 5/9): Weds.-Suns. @ 8pm
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