By: Paulanne Simmons
June 4, 2020: Bleeding Love, a musical about romance in catastrophic times, might seem to be the brainchild of someone living in 2020. However, book writer Jason Schafer, composer Arthur Lafrentz Bacon and lyricist Harris Doran (who also directed and edited) began the creative process nine years ago. What’s more, Bleeding Love is based on “The Nightingale and the Rose,” a fairy tale found in Oscar Wilde’s 1888 collection, The Happy Prince and Other Tales. And“The Nightingale and the Rose”wasWilde’s answer to Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Nightingale,” published in 1843.
All three versions are about sacrifice and unrequited love. But Bleeding Love takes the story one step further and turns it into a sci-fi romance reminiscent of The Toxic Avenger or Little Shop of Horrors.
With development at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals and a studio recording under their belt, the show’s producers set their sights on an audio drama. That was on March 3. A week later the world was in the same kind of lockdown the characters in the musical were experiencing, if for not quite the same reasons. Now, the musical can be heard on Broadway Podcast Network.
Writer Jason Schafer sets Bleeding Love on Kingfisher Avenue, a residential street in a nearly deserted post-apocalyptic metropolis where only the brave, the reckless and the vicious venture outside. But innocence still exists in the person of a teenage cellist named Bronwyn (Sarah Stiles).
Bronwyn lives with her Auntie Floy (Annie Golden), a onetime diva, now a bedridden addict, whose life revolves around her memories and the niece she is determined to protect from the harsh world they live in. As Bronwyn spends most of her time sitting by the window, playing her cello, Madame Floy is successful until Bronwyn encounters the neighborhood punk, Puppy (Tony Vincent) and, like so many good girls, falls for the bad boy.
The only problem is Puppy is in love with the sexy but shrewish Lolli (Rebecca Naomi Jones), who is addicted to drugs and lollipops. Like the fair lady in a chivalric romance, Lolli demands that Puppy produce a rose to prove his love for her. And Bronwyn, desperate for Puppy’s affection, is determined to find one, if it will make Puppy notice her.
But where to find a rose in a world where nothing grows? Bronwyn knows desperate times require desperate measure. Her measures include tricking Sweet William (Taylor Trensch), the son of the building’s gun-happy Super (Marc Kudisch), with a scheme that has unanticipated results.
The score is spirited, the lyrics clever. The narrator, music and sound effects evoke radio dramas of the twenties, thirties and forties. In fact, Bleeding Love blends the macabre and the sentimental using the very same methods that were perfected in those decades. And despite its ironic tone, like many of those radio dramas, the musical is strangely moving.
If this story doesn’t sound wacky, weird and wonderful, if it doesn’t make you want to set aside all disbelief for the sake of delightful surprise, if you don’t just know it’s going to tickle your funny bone, watch out. You just may have lost your sense of humor amidst the pandemic and riots.But even if that were the case, Styles’ sweet and soulful voice, Golden’s belt, Trensch’s goofy yearnings, Golden and Trensch’s harmonies, or the tremendous ensemble power ballads should put you back on the right track.