In 2008, Jake Broder and co-creator/co-star Vanessa Claire Stewart made jukebox-musical magic with Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara, their virtuoso poetic ellipsis in which art and life collided between the lines of a 1950s Vegas lounge act. Now Broder is back (sans Stewart) with Miravel, his much-anticipated follow-up, which similarly mines midcentury melodies in a daringly ambitious modern-jazz musical about emotionally tortured — and torturing — musicians, though with results that are decidedly more mixed.
Based both on Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand’s Belle Époque stage confection of unrequited love, and Gertrud, Hermann Hesse’s 1910 novel about creativity and suffering among opera artists, Miravel follows the romantic entanglement of aspiring composer Alphonso Bloch (Broder), a neurotic introvert, physically and psychically crippled by a teen affair gone bad. Rather than openly declaring his love for Miravel (Devereau Chumrau), the dancer who inspires him, he lives it vicariously by secretly writing the songs that allow his friend, the caddishly insensitive singer Henry (Will Bradley), to win her heart while twisting the knife in Alphonso's own.
The good news is that whenever the performers are playing music, Miravel is on fire. Bradley proves himself a persuasive frontman, particularly on an inspired funk/rap arrangement of George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” And Broder turns out to be as accomplished a jazz pianist and composer as he was a Louis Prima interpreter. Miravel’s six original tunes (one co-written with Ryan Johnson) confidently straddle hard bop and 1960s modalism (the story appears to begin sometime in the 1990s) and are skillfully brought home by the trio of Colin Kupka (sax), Michael Alvidrez (bass) and Kenny Elliot (drums) under Paul Litteral’s flawless musical direction.
Whenever the book takes over the heavy lifting, however, Miravel’s flames — along with much of its romance — are all but smothered. Director Shaunessy Quinn doesn’t help matters by directing key courtship scenes with Chumrau sidelined in the shadows. But the more fundamental trouble is that Broder retains Cyrano’s outlandishly contrived artifices but substitutes the warmth and buoyancy Rostand used to sell them with Hesse’s heavy cerebral solemnity and characters that are curiously charmless and unlovable.
Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, East Hollywood.; through Dec. 19. (310) 281-8337, sacredfools.org.