There were several hurdles for The Fartiste to clear before the curtain even went up:
1) I am extremely hard on musicals. It’s not, I finally realized, that I don’t like them, it’s that my standards are extremely high and somewhat idiosyncratic, so I end up enjoying relatively few of the ones created after about 1940.
2) I am extremely hard on shows about subjects that are of interest to me, such as, oh, highly unusual music hall artists like the famous French “fartomaniac” Joseph Pujol.
3) Despite having written my own play about farts, I like to think I am “above” fart humor. Ahem.
So no one was more surprised than I was at at how much I enjoyed The Fartiste, which we caught at Sofia’s Downstairs over the weekend. I was especially impressed by Michael Robert’s tunes, lyrics and arrangements all of which were original, full of wit and kept me on my toes. This is one fart musical that is not dumbed down. I will follow this songwriters’ subsequent outings very closely.
Likewise, I felt Charlie Schulman’s book contained equal measures of wit (over and above the obligatory wind jokes) but the show needs more story. It’s headed in a good direction — the old “man pursues a peculiar vision” arc, but it sill needs honing and focusing and beefing up.
Director John Gould Rubin wrings all he can from the cabaret environment of Sofia’s Downstairs, surrounding us with action. The waitress is in the show. The actors steal drinks off people’s tables. The action takes place not only on the stage but on all sides. (A smart move, because the joint ain’t raked, spoiling sightlines to the stage itself).
I was also impressed (as I seldom am) with the cast. Stand outs were Nick Wyman (a familiar Broadway face–I’d seen him earlier in A Tale of Two Cities) as Aristide, our “street singer”; Kevin Kraft as the eponymous flatulent; Steven Scott, as the foregrounded foley artist (whose range extends from trumpets to saxophones — use your imagination); and Lindsay Roginski, as can-can dancer La Goulue (the Countess informs me the actress is several orders of magnitude more attractive than her real-life character). The lively musical direction was by Rachel Kaufman, whom (coincidentally) was my musical director for my 2008 show No Applause Just Throw Money: The Show That Made Vaudevile Famous. Rachel’s just moved on to another French cabaret themed show — the Edith Piaf tribute I plugged here.
And the fact that Rachel has moved on leads to some sad news. The Fartiste closed yesterday. I’m glad I got to see it, and will definitely be keeping an eye out for new work by all the artists involved here.