The musical scene of the Brno City Theatre stages the musical comedy Lemonade Joe. Therefore, one of the most popular post-war heroes, who has been criss-crossing the Czech stages since 1944, returned to the local main stage last weekend. He became immortal in 1964 thanks to a brilliant film, a replica of which cannot be expected this time though. First of all, the theatre version contains many more songs, but the screenplay is different from the extraordinary celluloid version in some moments and in the final result. The new production directed by Petr Gazdík turned the well-known title into a wild narrative musical show that does not claim to be related to the famous film. On the contrary, thanks to its original humour and the method of its use, the new production tries to break through all the widely popular quotes to its own and legitimate version.
The result has the ambition to address not only the witnesses of the time, for whom the abstinent westerner is an untouchable legend, but also the younger generation and local musical audience. And Gazdík did it in his own way. For the younger ones, he sneaked a choreographically very successful reference to the famous Jackson's moonwalk into the production, including the tune of a song of the King of Pop, and a number in the contemporary dance style. The choreography by Lucie Holánková can be described as successful throughout the evening. On the other hand, the older members of the audience will enjoy the purposefully used tune from Morricone's music to the legendary western Once Upon a Time in the West in the story of the hero, who drinks lemonade instead of whisky and rigorously promotes morality. Or they will hear a long segment of the once famous Romantic piano of Jiří Malásek. And for lovers and fans of musical productions of the Brno City Theatre, Gazdík also inserted subtle references to the local titles in the production. And therefore, at one moment, you will see a light image referring to the local Romantic musical Duch (Ghost) and the tunes from West Side Story will play in your ear.
However, to avoid any confusion. It is no iconoclastic approach fundamentally reinterpreting the original that has been loved by Czech people for 70 years. Of course, the audience can expect an honest Horse Opera, as the Lemonade Joe is called in the subtitle. The onlookers will fully enjoy shooting colts, western outfits and the atmosphere of the Wild West. Only it is all happening with the admitted emphasising of the theatricality and the above method of searching for new humour in an old story. After all, the original screenplay by Brdečka was created in the style of a playful theatre show. The stage by Petr Hloušek, who created sumptuous painted props as if from an American puppet theatre of the late 19th century, gives the production the same dimension. Which obviously has its own logic, because the plot takes us to a small town in Arizona in 1885 where everyone meets in the local saloon and listens to Tornado Lou, a singer from Arizona. The successful staging created by Hloušek (once again you can see his excellent animated projections) underlined the desired old-world dimension with hatching, a staircase, furniture, bar and other accessories in the style of lithographic illustrations of print from the end of the old age.
Gazdík also intentionally leads the ensemble towards simplified and affected or even operetta-like acting of certain spectacular musical productions. Lemonade Joe played by Lukáš Janota is a good guy at first glance. The actor does not comment on his hero from a comic distance, he simply is the good guy who dislikes alcohol. The innocence of Winifred played by Ivana Odehnalová is perfectly snow-white, it is not a trivially performed unspoilt blonde who childishly rolls her eyes. The malice of Horác with a waxed moustache, as played by Viktor Skála, is multiplied here and roughly outlined by the perfect fallacy of the villain as if from film comedies. The emphasised theatrical excessiveness, from which the actors pretend not to keep any distance just for the effect, is most evident in Buffalo Bill as performed by Lukáš Kantor. This symbol of the Wild West is actually an ambitious dimwit who manages to become ("accidentally", of course) entangled in the curtain or jokingly stumble on stage. Everybody just acts with energy without exaggerated theatrical styling but with the colours of the heroes from pulp magazines. It must be said that it works well together, Gazdík’s added musical and theatrical jokes do not disintegrate the production, they are not disturbing but instead they organically cement it together. It is caused mainly by the fact that the director correctly decided on the number of such funny segments.
This Lemonade Joe is, of course, also based on the perfect sound (also supervised by Gazdík) and achieves it. After all, it could be heard from the musical direction of conductor Dan Kalousek during the premiere. It was the solo songs as well as the choral numbers that added the right blare of an entertaining show not only due to the use of scarcely dressed dancers to the night. And it is not necessary to look for more in this production than entertainment. The creators of this relaxing fun, which makes fun of love, death and feeling overall thanks to Brdečka's additions, took the distraction of the audience seriously. This is evidenced by the fact that they can gently make fun of the musical efforts of themselves in subtle allusions. If you are looking for amusement in this spirit, you have to hurry. The Music Scene of the Brno City Theatre will perform the production Lemonade Joe only in October and November in a block of 37 repeat performances.
Lemonade Joe/ Photo: Brno City Theatre Archive