The musical, once thought to be possible candidate for commercial transfer, did not cull admiring reviewing, resulting in lackluster ticket sales which could not bear out a longer run.
George C. Wolfe directs the world premiere, which features lyrics by Ira Gasman, Stuart Ross and Debra Barsha and a book by Ross. The score is by Barsha.
Haring's simple, playful paintings of dancing figures and glowing babies made him a beloved icon of the '80s and one of America's last true art stars. The show tracks his life from his arrival in New York from rural Pennsylvania, to his discovery of the Manhattan gay club scene, his early guerilla drawings in subway stations, his later fame in Soho galleries, and, finally, his early death from AIDS.
For the score, Barsha drew from the musical styles that dominated in the late '70s and '80s, the music she had danced to, including hip-hop, pop, club music and synthesizer music.
Daniel Reichard, the relative unknown who plays Haring, described his vocal assignments like this to Playbill On Line: "I wouldn't call them raps, I'd call them rants. They combine rock and roll with rap with narration." Reichard—who was fitted with Haring's famously large glasses—almost never leaves the stage during the show. He calls the musical the most exhausting thing he's ever done.
The cast also includes Gabriel Enrique Alvarez, Tracee Beazer, Celina Carvajal, Julee Cruise, Rhett G. George, Curtis Holbrook, Kate Jennings Grant, Anny Jules, Adam Michael Kaokept, Christopher Livsey, Aaron Lohr, Christopher Martinez, Jermaine Montell, Sarah Jane Nelson, Billy Porter , Angela Robinson, Keong Sim, Christian Vincent, Michael Winther and Remy Zakin.
When composer and lyricist Debra Barsha set about working on Radiant Baby, she knew the story she was telling very well.
"Keith Haring! This was my life in the '80s," exclaimed the boisterous songwriter, who came to New York City in 1978, roughly the time Haring's star began to rise. "We all related to this piece because we were all in the clubs," she continued, referring to her collaborators on The Public Theater show. "I was a club kid. I was on tour with Thomas Dolby and bands in the '80s. I was a rock and roll girl. All my days in the clubs and never seeing the light of day. Waking up at five in the evening and going to dinner. Who knew when I was getting trashed and dancing in the clubs that I was doing research for this show?!"
"We're dealing with the intimacies of his story in a very specific way, but it's also what he was about," explained Wolfe, who decided to develop the piece after attended a workshop four years ago. "He was a part of the Lower East Side movement. He was a part of the early hip hop movement that was happening in the south Bronx. All those energies and influences defined him and shaped him. Then, all of a sudden he had to negotiate a relationship with a time limit on his life. It makes his life so incredibly compacted, but, to me, it also makes his life so large. In a sense, all of us can find pieces of ourselves in his life."
Tickets are $55. The Public Theater is at 425 Lafayette Street For information, call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.publictheater.org.