It’s an audacious undertaking, this thorny jazz musical; a love story wrapped up in a conundrum. “Miravel, or The Promise of Alphonso Bloch” – written by Jake Broder, with music and lyrics by Jake Broder, starring Jake Broder and featuring the amazing Jake Broder at the piano – draws a cue from Rostand’s “Cyrano” and a bit more from Hermann Hesse’s “Gertrude.” Both stories are triangular love affairs featuring poetry and music in which one man sacrifices his yearnings for love to assist another in the wooing and winning process.
At a performing arts school (conservatory, university, Julliard? Who knows?), shy introverted Alphonso Bloch (Jake Broder), a talented jazz pianist with his heart and soul dedicated to his keyboard, is at work in a rehearsal room when Henry Brooks (Will Bradley), bursts in lured by the intriguing sounds he hears. Brooks, a hip singer in a pork pie hat, a conservatory star already being heard on the radio, runs rough-shod over the pianist praising him and dissing him all at once. Brooks is a high-energy egomaniac filled with self-love and self-loathing. Somehow this talented maniac prods the pianist to new heights of creativity, goading him to create music that the singer can use to fill the creative emptiness he feels inside. During their fraught first encounter, the men discover the alluring dancer Miravel (Devereau Chumrau) in a blanket under the piano where she had crept in to sleep. Both are gob-smacked by her with Bloch turning away from his desire and Brooks barely capable of reigning in his dog gene. Voilà, the lethal amorous triangle!
Miravel, a lover of music, likes the reticent Bloch and clearly sees the mercurial Brooks for what he is. The singer, knowing that Bloch loves Miravel and recognizing that she loves the pianist’s music, persuades the self-effacing composer to write songs that he could use to woo the dancer.
The story is told musically as well as dramatically, much of it taking place in a jazz nightclub, where both Bloch and Brooks perform with the backup of a superb trio of first-rate musicians – Colin Kupka on saxophone, who warms up the audience as they enter with fifteen minutes of inspired improvisation; Jonathon Kirsh on stand-up bass (adeptly subbing for Michael Alvidrez on the night I saw the show); and Kenny Elliott suavely and surely keeping the beat on drums. The show is worth seeing if only for the music.
Jake Broder is extraordinarily touching as Alphonso. Obviously, his life’s blood is in this project. His performance is, to invoke a couple of clichés, as right as rain and as easy as breath. He inhabits the character. Will Bradley, clearly a talented actor, has a role that calls for a lot of scenery chewing and he can gnaw with the best of them. He is mercurial, remorseful, violent, affected and pathetic. And he sings and dances with unique style. Devereau Chumrau exudes feminine charisma as Miravel. She moves with a dancer’s grace and plays with touching passion.
If there are problems with the play, they lie in the realm of credibility. It doesn’t seem reasonable that a discerning woman like Miravel would choose a man like Henry Brooks for whom she has a clear dislike despite a certain physical attraction. Also a dream dance sequence featuring each man in turn as Miravel’s partner, while interesting, does not seem organic to what has gone on before.
That said, “Miravel” remains an exciting, bold theatrical adventure well worth seeing and hearing, especially if one appreciates live jazz.
“Miravel, or The Promise of Alphonso Bloch” runs Friday and Saturday nights at 8pm through December 19 at Sacred Fools Theater Company, 660 N. Heliotrope, Hollywood.