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Theater review: Shaggy and baggy, Beardo rocks out in Tsarist Russia

By David Cote
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You expect ironic (i.e., irritating) facial hair any time you visit Brooklyn, but this is ridiculous. A freewheeling riff on pre–Russian Revolution mystic Rasputin by playwright Jason Craig (LongYarn) and composer Dave Malloy (Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812), Beardo is titled in reference to the notorious courtier’s prodigious chin mane. Damon Daunno, who plays the lead with zest, keeps his fuzz fairly neat. Not so the show around him. There’s so much silliness and whimsy on display, the whole affair is begging to be called shaggy.

Other valid descriptors are scruffy and messy, which is fun for a bit—before you start yearning for dramaturgical focus and stronger direction to bring out a decent musical. This Pipeline Theatre Company production is hardly a history lesson, but it outlines the rise and fall of a charismatic peasant who has a talent for fooling the weak, credulous Tsar (Willy Appleman) and fooling around with the ladies. Faced with the grotesque and protracted murder of the real Rasputin, Craig and Malloy try to compete with an extended comic ballet about poisoning, shooting and finally drowning the scoundrel.

Director Ellie Heyman has fine individual ingredients to work with: Craig’s goofy-eerie dialogue and lyrics, Malloy’s folksy pop and a cast bursting with talent. (Smoky siren Alex Highsmith is a standout as the sexually frustrated Tsarista.) It’s the integration of those elements and themes that doesn’t work. A string quintet off to the side dutifully saws through Malloy’s wistful, semi-Slavic tunes, but book and score rarely gel. Craig floats the notion that Beardo may be channeling supernatural forces from deep in the earth (or some other source), but it gets lost in all the frivolous court satire. A novelty-song cycle grafted onto an absurdist historical fable for two-and-a-half hours, Beardo needs trimming.

St. Johns Lutheran Church (Off Broadway). Book and lyrics by Jason Craig. Music by Dave Malloy. Directed by Ellie Heyman. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission. Through Mar 5. Click here for full venue and ticket information.

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote    

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