‘Baz’ crams too many classic tales into too little time

At least we’ve learned the difference between “immersive” and “interactive” theater.

Take 2 of “Baz” (this time subtitled “Star Crossed Love”) relaunches the stage salute to the barrel-rolling films of Baz Luhrmann in a custom Palazzo theater, complete with cabaret tables and sofa seating. The cast blends seamlessly with the surrounding audience, which is encouraged to snap pictures but not to speak up.

As minimal and occasionally high school-ish as its abridged approach to the classics can be — and we’re talking, “I ain’t got time to read Cliffs Notes, dude” — it speaks to their enduring power that we sit still, shut up and maybe even get just a little bit choked up as three tales of ill-fated love reach their bombastically tragic conclusions.

It’s bold for the Strip. And even if it’s several steps removed from the actual Baz Luhrmann, “Baz” shares his go-for-it, over-the-top spirit, unafraid of embarrassing itself (and sometimes it does).

Still, the enduring power of “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Great Gatsby” and even Luhrmann’s screenplay for “Moulin Rouge” must cut through layers of ADD busyness.

 

Just what is it trying to be? A musical revue with a few connecting threads? A stage translation of operatic movies? A serious attempt to mash up three thematically linked literary works (Luhrmann cited Alexandre Dumas’ “Camille” as his “Moulin Rouge” inspiration)?

Answer: D., all of the above. But that doesn’t get you out of your homework.

At least watch the movies. Anything helps. Even more than the first staging of “Baz” last summer at Mandalay Bay, director Anderson Davis’ retooling has pared the dialogue to a bare-bones framework for the films’ creative recycling of pop songs.

Now there’s just enough acting to get in the way of the singing, just enough story to make you want more.

Last year’s cast also had its share of actors who were … well, good singers. But this troupe seems collectively younger and even less able to inhabit the shorthand character sketches.

Only one of the doomed couples manages to connect between songs: Romeo and Juliet, played by LJ Benet and Timyra Joi. The “Moulin Rouge” couple of Luhrmann’s biggest movie hit (Briana Cuoco and Payson Lewis) don’t get much of a chance to charm us with the film’s cheeky wit, and “Gatsby” has been trimmed nearly out of the mix altogether.

Sometimes it seems the only grown-up onstage is William Evans, as the Moulin Rouge impresario and Juliet’s papa. But the youngsters are sexy and passionate, and the dynamic ballroom couple of “So You Think You Can Dance” alums Brittany Cherry and Nick Garcia adds a real physical energy.

The songs often get the same cut-and-paste treatment as the dialogue. The manic opening sequence plays like a game of “Name That Tune,” packing in snippets of maybe 10 songs — everything from “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

Davis does crosscut them cinematically, such as Des’ree’s “I’m Kissing You” from the “Romeo” soundtrack getting carried over to “Gatsby” and Daisy. And when they are allowed to breathe, the songs speak louder than words (even words revered and studied in school). This year’s Daisy, Joanna Jones, gets the same knock-it-out-of-the-park moment with Florence + the Machine’s “Over the Love” that sent last year’s, Ruby Lewis, to Broadway in Cirque du Soleil’s “Paramour.”

If you’ve been combing the Strip for something theatrical and romantic, here it is. But if you really have been searching, it also seems you’d be willing to sit still for another five to 10 minutes of storytelling.

“Baz” is not actually presented by Baz Luhrmann, but by an L.A. troupe called For the Record, which specializes in bringing movie mash-ups to the stage. When you look at what the Palazzo has done with the room, you wonder what ol’ Baz himself might do in there.

Good thing they invented the internet. In a 2003 interview, Luhrmann was talking to Las Vegas casinos during their own Gatsby era about a stage version of “Moulin Rouge.”

“Satine could be (played by) guest stars, so you’d get really serious players coming in and doing six weeks a throw,” he said. “And then booking a lot of cabaret in it as well. Edgy, interesting cabaret work … I think it’s a great environmental piece. I mean imagine, Satine comes down the middle on a swing. You want to be in the space, I think.”

Interesting idea, that.

Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com and follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.

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