If art, as Josef Albers insisted, is concerned with the how, not the what, then Ghostlight Gypsies' musical art carnival ranks as an unqualified coup de theater. The "what" in this case is the sprawling, 25-year history of "radical self-expression" in the Nevada desert known as Burning Man, at least as reimagined by composer Mark Nichols and lyricist Erik Davis in their rousing, mythic rock pageant. The "how" is the inspired decision by Nichols and fellow directors Stephen Hues and Julie Lewis to forgo the formality of a traditional theater or mise en scene for the intimacy of a downtown artist's loft and an environmental staging (designed by Daphne Vega and Yoni Koenig) that mixes live actors (in Wendy Doyle's eye-popping fetish costumes) and shadow puppetry with deejays, art installations, roving belly dancers, and food and craft booths. The result is part rock opera and part art party that for those old enough to remember evokes the anarchic spirit of L.A.'s underground theoretical punk-rock performance art events of the late-'80s. Two large shadow screens flank a live band (Nichols sits in as musical director) as the show sets the misadventures of a pair of archetypal "newbies" (Nichols & Lewis) against the larger tale of the desert festival itself and the eventual falling-out of its founders (Nichols & Troy Guthrie) over the conflict between Burning Man's phenomenal commercial success and its nonconformist ethos. Nichols' winning score works a Hair-era musical vocabulary of R&B and acid rock by way of Kurt Weill, while Davis delivers sardonic counterpoint in the role of the wisecracking narrator, The Bunny. The evening's stars are the polished, 15-member musical ensemble, which collectively boasts one of the best sets of pipes heard on any stage in L.A. this year. The magic comes courtesy of the inventive wit of puppeteers Nathan Fairhurst, James Murray and Vega.
Fri., June 10, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., June 11, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., June 12, 8:30 p.m.; Thu., June 16, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., June 18, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., June 19, 8:30 p.m.; Thu., June 23, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., June 24, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., June 26, 8:30 p.m.; Thu., June 30, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., July 1, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., July 9, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., July 10, 8:30 p.m.; Thu., July 14, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., July 15, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., July 17, 8:30 p.m.; Thu., July 21, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., July 23, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., July 24, 8:30 p.m.; Thu., July 28, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., July 29, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., July 31, 8:30 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 4, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 5, 8:30 p.m., 2011