Gus Van Sant's Warhol Musical 'Andy' Is A Surprise But Not A Miracle

LISBON – Gus Van Sant is no stranger to experimental biopics: “ Last days », His lyrical meditation, almost without dialogue, on the end...


LISBON – Gus Van Sant is no stranger to experimental biopics: “Last days», His lyrical meditation, almost without dialogue, on the end of the life of Kurt Cobain, shunned all the conventions of the genre. Still, “Andy,” his Andy Warhol-inspired stage debut, which had its world premiere at the Teatro Nacional D. Maria II in Lisbon this week, perhaps Van Sant’s strangest tribute to date.

For starters, it’s a musical. Warhol in duet with modernist art critic Clement Greenberg; Valérie Solanas sings, weapon in hand, before opening fire inside the Factory.

It’s a bold choice for a director who’s doing theater for the first time, and Van Sant, 69, hasn’t just contributed to the script. He is also listed as a set designer and composer of “Andy”. (Paulo Furtado, a Portuguese musician named The Legendary Tigerman, is credited with “musical direction,” as well as arranging for most of the numbers.)

While “Andy” is an unexpected result, Van Sant has had a Warhol project in mind for over three decades. At the end of the 1980s, he developed a scenario for Universal Pictures with Paul Bartel, in the hopes it would star actor River Phoenix. After Phoenix’s death in 1993, the project was scrapped.

The invitation to turn to the theater came from John Romão, artistic director of the Contemporary Arts Biennale (BoCA), which runs until mid-October. While “Andy” is played entirely in English, the cast and crew are all Portuguese. After the end of the initial race in Portugal, “Andy” will tour Europe, stopping first at Rome and in Amsterdam.

There are some tweaks that can make “Andy” even better, but let’s start with the obvious: making musicals is a profession. It would be miraculous to produce a good one the first time. Even though the Virgin Mary appears on stage to joke with Warhol, “Andy” is no miracle.

While Van Sant has spent much of his film career bending around Hollywood rules, his approach here is relatively cautious. “Andy” has a clear narrative arc, spanning the years between 1959 and 1967, and expected musical numbers for soloists and small ensembles. There is even an attempt at choreography in an early scene, although the group’s hip hits when Warhol’s homosexuality is mentioned are less than subtle.

If anything, however, the relative conventionality of “Andy” exposes Van Sant’s inexperience with the syntax of live performance. The entrances and exits betray him very early on. Designing believable transitions is a basic theatrical conundrum, and “Andy” is choppy, with actors coming and going with difficulty.

Warhol is also a paradoxical subject for a musical. Songs have a way of unveiling a character’s soul, but Warhol’s deliberately enigmatic character has been difficult for even scholars to analyze. His onstage transformation from bespectacled and painfully shy Andrew Warhola, who wears a bow tie and stalks Truman Capote, into the high priest of Pop Art produces something like a whiplash. Suddenly he becomes a hollow shell, which treats his factory workers – including Edie Sedgwick – with complete callousness.

Van Sant’s songs are reluctant to explore his inner life from this point on, instead focusing on artistic debates and one-off events like the filming of Solanas. Musically, they are fairly uniform and flat, lacking in melodies that could carry the action; perhaps an injection from the Velvet Underground, which the Warhol group once ran, could have helped.

Surprisingly, the book also gives Warhol quite a bit of agency in his own career. Her mother is credited with the idea for her soup can series. Gérard Malanga, Warhol’s only lover to appear in the series gives him the makeover that allows him to fit into the New York underground scene. Later, he is portrayed as unhappy with the management of the factory.

Some scenes and lines are taken directly from TV interviews, including an appearance by Warhol and Sedgwick on “The Merv Griffin Show. In others, the characters fall victim to Van Sant’s awkward explanatory dialogue. Greenberg, an authority on modernism, may have despised Pop Art, but he surely deserved better than singing, ‘I am a man. extraordinary, I’m waiting for extraordinary stuff.

Van Sant chose to work with a young, mostly inexperienced cast, and acting and singing in English is clearly a tall order for many of them, although they bravely try.

The strongest overall performance comes from Helena Caldeira, who captures Sedgwick’s choppy pace. Like Warhol, Diogo Fernandes has less vocal breadth, but he pulls both sides of Warhol. One of the strongest scenes sees him seriously asking the Virgin Mary: “Do you think Pop Art can be ungodly?” Like Mary, Caroline Amaral nails silly and wonderful jokes, and their exchange suggests that leaning into the bizarre could have turned “Andy” into a more Warholian proposition.

Another brief flash of absurdity comes at the end, as Warhol reunites with Capote in Heaven. (Condom immediately asks where the gay bars are.) There is a flamboyant, absurd comedy lurking in “Andy.” For now, Van Sant doesn’t have the theatrical tools to unleash him.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Gus Van Sant's Warhol Musical 'Andy' Is A Surprise But Not A Miracle
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