Why a Musical About the Sex-Crazed Mystic Rasputin Plays a Church in Brooklyn

Special Features   Why a Musical About the Sex-Crazed Mystic Rasputin Plays a Church in Brooklyn
St. John’s Lutheran Church becomes home to the Russian mystical faith healer in a racy, immersive staging of Dave Malloy’s new musical.
Tech for Beardo Marc J. Franklin

Off the G train, in the heart of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, theatregoers travel to a decaying 165-year-old church, where scaffolding covers the altar, theatrical lighting hangs above the pews, and a small rock band plays in the corner. It’s what writers Dave Malloy (who recently debuted his Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway) and Jason Craig, and director Ellie Heyman deem the perfect home for their musical Beardo, the story of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin.

“We had a space that we lost,” explains director Heyman, “so our back was extremely up against a wall, and then we found a church…that we ended up not being able to use, but it was about to be so perfect [that we thought], ‘Let’s find a [different] church.’”

Producer Natalie Gershtein met with a series of pastors to explain the subject matter of their musical, which chronicles the ascent of Rasputin, the infamous Russian mystic with an insatiable sex drive (“So, there is a song about his penis,” Gershtein would explain). Then she stumbled upon Pastor Katrina D. Foster—who Heyman describes as a “really progressive lesbian pastor”—and Brooklyn’s St. John’s Lutheran Church.

When the church was on the brink of closing 17 months ago, Pastor Foster was called upon to save it. She moved with her wife and child from the Hamptons to Greenpoint, and brought the religious home back to life. “Something that is really important to her is that the way that you save a church is that it needs to be used,” says Heyman. “People need to see the lights on. It needs to be a home for people. There has to be activity. There has to be community.”

Not only has the congregation grown from seven to approximately 30, St. John’s Lutheran is also bringing in theatregoers from all over New York to see the new musical from Great Comet composer Malloy.

Beardo took shape in the early 2000s, when Malloy and Craig collaborated on pieces for Craig’s theatre company: banana bag & bodice. Following its 2011 premiere in California, the musical made its Off-Broadway debut this month and has been transformed into an immersive theatrical event enclosed in stained-glass windows and accompanied by a pipe organ.

Craig explains he enacted minimal compromises to the script so it could be performed in the church (cutting the word “Goddamn” and eliminating nudity). Malloy adds, “C*nt [is] fine; f*ck [is] fine—like every other word, which was amazing! Jason and I were like, ‘If that is the exchange for this incredible space, then absolutely.’”

Flip through the photos from inside the church below:

Beardo runs through March 5 in Brooklyn, and the Greenpoint locals and members of the congregation plan to be in attendance. “I feel nervous [about them coming],” Heyman admits. “I keep warning them, but they’re coming. I had talked to one woman. I said, ‘It’s a little racy.’ She said, ‘Life’s a little racy.’”


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