Warhol mystery premiers at the Yale Rep

The Yale Rep’s December production of “POP!” centered on Andy Warhol’s 1968 shooting.
The Yale Rep’s December production of “POP!” centered on Andy Warhol’s 1968 shooting. Photo by Eileen Shim.

Gunshots reverberated at the Yale Repertory Theatre as an artist with shocking white hair and 1960s sunglasses, wearing a red-and-white striped sweater, was shot onstage.

“POP!,” which had its world premiere last Friday at the Yale Repertory Theatre, explores the 1968 shooting of Andy Warhol and the artist’s personal life at The Factory, his famous New York City studio and the focal point of 1960s bohemian subculture. A whodunit set in Warhol’s mind, “POP!,” directed by Mark Brokaw and written by Maggie-Kate Coleman and Anna K. Jacobs, uses projection and real-time video to emulate the New York pop art scene and Warhol’s eclectic style.The show is one of the first to come out of the Yale Institute of Musical Theatre, which was established last November by the School of Drama and the School of Music.

“Not everyone likes Andy Warhol, but his relevance can be seen everywhere,” School of Drama Dean James Bundy DRA ’95, who is the Rep’s artistic director, said in an e-mail. “He’s a pivotal figure, but not an easy person to understand.”

The characters try to uncover the identity of the person who shot Warhol and nearly killed him in his own studio. But while “POP!” is a mystery, it also addresses Warhol’s complicated relationships with his Superstars — the celebrities he promoted — and The Factory.

“The shooting was a big turning point in Warhol’s life that made him reevaluate the scene that he was surrounded by,” Jacobs, who composed the music, said. “The Factory was such an interesting scene, with its own hierarchy, social dynamic and drama.”

The show attempts to solve the mystery inside Warhol’s head, pitting the suspects against each other in a reality TV show format, hosted by famed transsexual diva and Warhol Superstar Candy Darling. It then explores the possible murder motives of each of Warhol’s associates at The Factory.

Coleman said she chose to set the musical in Warhol’s mind in order to interpret not only his artwork but also his person.

“Warhol said that pop art is taking the inside and putting it on the outside,” Coleman said. “The persona that he created to be ‘Andy Warhol’ was a piece of conceptual art in and of it self, so we wanted the musical to be a concept piece as well.”

Coleman and Jacobs, who met through the graduate musical theater writing program at New York University, paired up in 2008 to work on the show as a part of their Master of Fine Arts thesis. After holding workshops for their material at NYU and Pennsylvania State University, they applied to the Yale Institute of Musical Theater workshop last summer.

They were “thrilled and stunned” to hear that the Yale Rep decided to produce the show after the workshop, Coleman said.

“For a new musical, it would normally take five to 10 years before getting to production,” Coleman said.

POP! uses many multimedia tools, such as real-time videos that are projected on the walls and the television screens in the background. The videos were used in the show to mimic Walter Cronkite’s CBS Evening News and Warhol’s own films, with the actors walking around with the cameras to capture the action on stage as it happened.

“The Factory people were the first to have multimedia dance parties with projections and films and lights,” Jacobs said. “They were the progenitors of that kind of entertainment.”

The music was also influenced by the different styles of the era. In addition to 1960s music, such as The Beatles and The Velvet Underground — The Factory’s musical project — the show features country ballads, beat poetry, gospel numbers and even opera.

Jacobs said she hoped the piece, with its projection art and eclectic music, would help the audience see the real Warhol, “the man hiding behind a pair of Ray Bans.”

“We wanted to show what happens when an artist is his own creation, and what the human behind the mask is and could be,” Coleman said.

POP! is scheduled to run until Dec. 19.

Correction: Dec. 2, 2009

An earlier version of this article in one instance misreported the musical’s producer; the Yale Institute for Musical Theatre workshopped the musical, but it was produced by the Yale Repertory Theatre. The earlier version also omitted the position of School of Drama Dean James Bundy DRA ’95, the Yale Rep’s artistic director.

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