Radiant Baby: The Keith Haring Musical
by Debra Barsha, Stuart Ross, and Ira Gasman
directed by Alan Patrick Kenny
New Stage Collective
During intermission of the opening night of ‘Radiant Baby,’ the musical about 1980s pop artist Keith Haring, I heard three people separately mention how exhausted they were from watching the energetic, frenetic New Stage Collective cast. This is not at all a bad thing.
Director Alan Patrick Kenny and his young cast of 18 are too young to have experienced the New York art world in the decadent ’80s, but you can’t tell that from the exuberance they bring to the stage.
In this mostly sung-through, nearly constantly moving show, it’s hard to tell where Kenny’s direction ends and Adrienne Clark’s wonderfully resourceful choreography begins. So I’ll give them both credit for skillfully utilizing a huge cast in a tiny space and for many simple but effective visual flourishes.
Much about the design and production is an example to Cincinnati’s alternative theaters about what is possible with virtually no budget but creative minds.
Still, the energy of ‘Radiant Baby’ is infectious, making it fun to watch from start to finish.
Director Alan Patrick Kenny is a proven talent, and with ‘Radiant Baby’ he does the best job imaginable with scattershot material and an uneven cast. His stage pictures are often inspired, and he keeps his people moving in inventive and energetic ways. Kenny serves the show better than it serves him.
Radiant Baby, mounted by New Stage Collective, is one of the first of the season and surely one of the most unique. In one of the few productions presented since its initial Off-Broadway production, New Stage breathes life into the piece, thanks to its talented cast, strong direction and vivid choreography, all of which help to overcome the material's shortcomings.
Thankfully, New Stage Collective is able to present this piece with an energy and excitement that is indeed what Haring's life seemed to suggest. Alan Patrick Kenny makes numerous bold and risky directorial choices which provide handsome payoffs in nearly every instance. There is frenetic life in his staging, along with apt moments of erotic sexuality that provide humor and show the culture of the 1980s New York in which Haring lived. A large cast on a small performance space usually means limited choreography, but Adrienne Clark's fluid, active and period appropriate dances are surprisingly well executed and visually interesting. Clark's choreography greatly assists in keeping the frenzied pace of New Stage's production running on all cylinders.
As written, Radiant Baby is interesting as a theatrical piece due to its subject matter, Keith Haring, and the world in which he lived. While the book and score aren't poorly rendered, they do little more than provide the basics. New Stage Collective in Cincinnati is able to bring the artist and his art alive, thanks to the performers and production team of designers, choreographer and director.