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Glenda Frank

Long Live The Party!

“Viva Patshiva” (“Long Live the Party”). David Jenness, book and lyrics.
Directed by Paul Smithyman. Andrea Kalan with Aaron Haskell, choreography.
Interart Center Annex, 500 W. 52nd St., 2nd floor, NYC.
March 6- May 16, Fri. and Sat. at 7:30 PM for pre-theatre gathering, free wine and beer, and gypsy dance instructions. Show begins at 8:30 PM. After-party begins right after the performance, 10 PM.
Tickets and information: 212-868-4444 or www.vivapatshiva.com. $20.
by Glenda Frank

212-868-4444 is the number to call for a rocking good time -- plus free wine, beer, and a dance lesson. “Viva Patshiva” is a party way west of Broadway (10th Ave.), a gypsy fiesta, and a rock opera. The score has clever, jazzy Roma (as in Gypsy) turns with Israeli and other Middle Eastern motifs woven in. The lyrics – mostly a comic struggle with nihilism -- are catchy and distinctive, and the over-the-top performers give it their all. It would be a good deal at $40 a ticket, but it’s only $20. I was impressed, and everyone had a good time.

The slim plot is about Zazu (Chemda), a young, moody dancer who is searching for true love. Shadow and Paprika, the leaders of the Roma family, however, are the real draw. They are passionate and animated about everything – love, fighting, and scheming to save the group from their many debts, especially the money they owe to the man who smuggled them into America. As played by the handsome Raven Solano and Lauren Hennessy, the couple are charismatic, compelling, and not very ethical. They conspire to wed Zazu to Wynn Dwyer (Ray West), a wealthy motivational speaker, in exchange for a large cash settlement. Dwyer is enchanted by her after catching her dance at the Pump Room, a strip tease club, and arrives at the Roma camp -- hidden under the BQE -- determined to win her hand. Although hesitant, she opens her heart, only to discover his duplicity. The pragmatic couple try to convince her that a wise woman winks at infidelities. Dwyer’s philandering is mirrored by a younger Roma (Aaron Haskell), who has been breaking the hearts of married women all across Europe. He too is a problem for Shadow and Paprika, who are facing their own marital crises.

Every scene is filled with the songs – ballads, laments, celebrations – and dances of the family. “We celebrate reasons to live,” they sing, “ [in] a world where there are so many reasons to die. . . . Winter is coming. We must answer the call of the Interstate.” This joking cynicism, this unconditional embrace of life with little expectation of success produce a continual appeal. And when the rock opera hits a note of sentimentality, the lyrics pull us back again to its wild optimism in the face of life on the edge. Lyrics like “Pretty soon you go from bad to worse and it only ends in a ride in a hearse” are sung on an upbeat. (The CD is on sale in the lobby.)

Jake Shulman-Ment’s irresistible plaintive violin, middle-Eastern sounding music that makes you want to dance, choral roundel and fugue vocal arrangements are a draw in themselves. Chemda, appealingly exotic with her long dark curls, is an Israeli-American pop singer and comedienne. Ray West is the lead singer of the 90’s metal bank Spread Eagle. Gypsy choreography is by a Hungarian Gypsy dancer Andrea Kalan with Aaron Haskell. Quick, lively direction is by Paul Smithyman. In 2008 this group was one of 17 international bands invited to perform at the Droma Gypsy Festival.

Funny, exciting, and sad – this show exerts an irresistible pull. It had its genesis in the comic rock band The Sacred Clowns, which mixed improvisational musicians and comedians from New York City's Lower East Side scene. In 2001, a core group began developing Jenness’ rock opera by combining a sensational performance style with the charged melodies and dance steps of the Gypsies of Hungary and Transylvania. The current production is part of the Interart Development series, which since 1996, has provided an environment of creative freedom for a wide variety of theatre artists who are developing new projects.


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