HOUSTON – "We were slaughtered by the New York critics and we have never really figured out why," admitted veteran filmmaker Paul Bartel, who in 1992 created a musical out of his 1982 cult movie Eating Raoul. He was the bookwriter for the musical of the same name; he co-wrote, directed, and co-starred in the movie. "Audience reaction was so strong" to the musical, he said.
April 15 - May 24, Theater LaB in Houston presents the Southwest premiere of the campy, vampy show about Paul and Mary Bland, whose adventures are anything but bland. After Mary is accosted by a swinger who lives upstairs and Paul accidentally kills him by wielding a frying pan to the noggin, the asexual Blands have a brainstorm about how to raise the money necessary to open up a longed-for cafe: lure perverts into their apartment, bop them dead on the head and rob them. Tax-free community service, in other words. All goes according to plan until Raoul, the super, discovers their ruse; a would-be nightclub singer of "salsa egotistica," Raoul has his own designs on their crimes, offering to dispose of the corpses via a dog food factory, for instance. The "mucho macho man" also tempts Mary about other bodily functions. The title more than hints at what ultimately becomes of the super, who's a bit too scheming for the Blands.
Music by Jed Feuer and lyrics by Boyd Graham, Eating Raoul the musical is more buoyant and sportive than the black comedy film, a result Bartel considered inevitable given the sensibilities of musical theater. The stage version took 8 years to develop. Bartel and the creative team went through numerous producers and directors who, Bartel said, demanded changes he and his associates weren't prepared to make. What Bartel and company did change, readily, was the time frame: from the early 1980s of the movie to the mid 1960s of the musical to avoid the AIDS era and to underscore the swinger craze.
As for why he didn't direct, Bartel explained that while he is a professional director, he knows most how to shape not theater but film (among his movie credits are Lust in the Dust and Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills). He knew that the musical "needed a whole new imagination. I wanted to put my talents, such as they are, at the disposal of someone else's vision. The show required a different approach." Toni Kotite helmed the New York premiere.
"In retrospect I wish I had thrown my weight around more," Bartel continued. "We made a terrible mistake committing to lots of physical scenery in New York. That production lumbered, and not only because of the additional costs required," but also the production values didn't reflect the nature of the musical, which is fluid, frisky, frolicking. "We tied the show down. I wish we had kept it in the storefront theater in which it had originally workshopped," as opposed to the comparatively huge Union Square Theater in which it ran. Bartel added that the musical drew raves in a subsequent Los Angeles production precisely because it done relatively intimately. Bartel was pleased that Theater LaB's venue is tiny, seating about 100. The impetus behind transforming Eating Raoul into a musical was, most of all, practicality, Bartel said. "It's very difficult to find new worthy property and get it produced. When Eating Raoul the movie was a hit, I thought, 'Here is my passport.'"
Eating Raoul runs April 15 - May 24 at Theater LaB in Houston. For tickets, $18, call (713) 868-7516
By Peter Szatmary