curtain call

‘Hamilton’’s Andy Blankenbuehler heads to 1920s Paris to stage a new musical

'Only Gold' at MCC Theater
‘Only Gold’ at MCC Theater. Photo by Daniel J. Vasquez.

Welcome to Curtain Call, our mostly queer take on the latest openings on Broadway and beyond.

The Rundown:

If there’s any time to run to the theater for a bit of escapism, it’s now. With the heightened anxiety of the midterms and the looming general election not far behind, a night in 1928 Paris sounds delightful.

Add the dynamic choreography of three-time Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, Bandstand, In the Heights), and you might expect gold. And while the new musical Only Gold, featuring music and lyrics by Kate Nash and book by Blankenbuehler and Ted Malawer (Halston and the upcoming film adaptation of Red, White & Royal Blue), isn’t quite 24-karat, it’s got enough glitz and glimmer for a night at the theater.

Related: Meet the dreamy stars of Red, White & Royal Blue

'Only Gold' at MCC Theater
Ryan Gold and Gabby Diaz in ‘Only Gold.’ Photo by Daniel J. Vasquez.

No Tea, No Shade:

Nash also appears as the show’s narrator and sets the scene: ”Paris. 1928. A time when rules were ready to be broken. A place where a cup of coffee, a night at the opera, or even a simple necklace from an alley shop could change your entire life.”

King Belenus (Terrence Mann) and Queen Roksana (Karine Plantadit) of Cosimo have arrived in Paris with their daughter Princess Tooba (Gaby Diaz), hoping to marry her off to a count and secure their country’s fortune. But love has other plans when the free-spirited daughter kindles a flame with the hotel bellhop Jacques (Ryan Steele). To counter the obvious plot line is the humble watchmaker Henri (Ryan Vandenboom), who longs to bring his designs to life. At the same time, his wife Camille (Hannah Cruz) struggles with a woman’s place in society and her desire to play the piano professionally.

The royal couple intersects with the modest creatives in the search for a long-lost necklace once given to the queen. And so the stage is set for unrequited and rediscovered love in art and life.

Blankenbuehler’s choreography is some of the most original and dynamic staging of the season. The company — many with Hamilton as a performing credit — embodies his vocabulary of movement with alluring weightlessness. Syncopated flicks of the foot or an isolated shoulder reel it back to reality as if dreams are just out of a character’s grasp.

Nash’s music, which feels slightly edgier but in the same vein as Ingrid Michaelson (who’s also stepped into the musical theater spotlight with a Broadway-bound adaption of The Notebook), complements Blankenbuehler’s choreography with its melodic builds and haunting melodies that sometimes exceed their characters’ emotional range.

Only Gold tarnishes when it demands its actors be triple threats. Vanderboom, as the watchmaker, is one of the few up to the task by delivering a stunning dance solo. At the same time, as King Belenus, Mann takes Only Gold as far as it needs to go, playing each moment with unexpected shifts from bravado to forlorn love. As his wife, Plantadit appears stiff and lifeless until she starts dancing, at which point she’s utterly magnetic to watch. Cruz, too, struggles to activate Camille’s self-discovery and emerging feminism.

Jeff Croiter’s lighting design plays well on David Korins’ filigree-heavy set, which feels too literal for Only Gold’s dreamlike ambition. With all of the references to Paris’s beauty, it’s as though the characters are locked in the lobby of a five-star hotel.

Let’s Have a Moment:

In one of Only Gold’s final sequences, the narrator speaks of a young boy who plugs a dam with his finger. “The boy stayed like this for a very long time. His finger pruned and numbed until he could no longer feel it,” she continues. “Years passed, and passed, and passed, and he could not remember why he had stuck his finger in the dam, to begin with.”

The metaphor brought to life through Blankenbuehler’s storytelling ensemble speaks to the king’s rigidity in holding on to the past versus the freedom, beauty, and possibility of the present.

'Only Gold' at MCC Theater
(l to r) Karine Plantadit, Terrence Mann, and Gaby Diaz in ‘Only Gold.’ Photo by Daniel J. Vasquez.

The Last Word:

In an interview with the New York Times, Blankenbuehler said, “Kate’s the kind of person who — and this is a compliment — writes what she wants to write. If she’s feeling it, she writes it, so she’s always in her own music. To be in somebody else’s story was hard for her because she’s not those personalities. One thing she’s worked really hard at is wearing the character’s clothes, writing the song from the inside of the character.”

Nash was a quick study, and the pay-off is big in Only Gold‘s score, accompanied by Blankenbuehler’s athletic and emotionally charged choreography. And while the story doesn’t always rise to the occasion, it’s a fancifully French enough distraction from what’s happening at home.

Only Gold plays Off-Broadway at MCC Theater’s Newman Mills Theater through November 27. 

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