Hello Again, Bailiwick Repertory. Arthur Schnitzler’s 1900 La ronde, set in 1890s Vienna, is made up of ten vignettes linked by the theme of sexual pursuit and by the device of having one character from each scene appear in the next. Composer-librettist Michael John LaChiusa adds a twist in his marvelous 1994 chamber musical: it skips back and forth across the 20th century. A pampered preppie has a fling with a nurse in the 1960s, then is whisked back to the 30s for a furtive affair with a frustrated housewife; a stuffy 50s husband suddenly finds himself aboard the Titanic, where he dies expressing his long-hidden homosexuality with a young hustler, who then shows up in a 1970s disco; and so it goes.
Eschewing sentimentality and cynicism, LaChiusa’s witty, colloquial lyrics strike a note of clinical objectivity. But most impressive is his music: each scene is composed in a style suited to its era–bebop, swing, rock, blues, disco, tango, waltz. But LaChiusa avoids pastiche, displaying a consistent personality that suggests but doesn’t imitate Kurt Weill’s dissonant, lyrical expressionism.
This midwest premiere, staged by Elizabeth A. Lucas with superb musical direction by Dan Stetzel, employs excellent performers who rise above the bare-bones production. The ten singers and five instrumentalists handle the tricky rhythms and challenging melodies with aplomb; particularly strong are McKinley Carter, George Keating, Matt Shea, Cindy Zier, and Dan Turek, whose middle-aged politician–like all the characters–can’t distinguish his fantasies from real-life encounters.