Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010 8:57 pm

INTELLIGENCER JOURNAL/LANCASTER NEW ERA

JANE HOLAHAN Staff Writer

THEATER REVIEW

     The new musical "Georgia O'Keeffe: A Woman on Paper," which had its world premiere at Franklin & Marshall's Roschel Performing Arts Center Thursday night, has great bones. While it is still a work in progress, the show, produced by OperaLancaster, boasts gorgeous music by Lancaster's Alisa Bair, some wonderful performances and an intriguing way of telling the story of Georgia O'Keeffe's amazing life.

     In addition to the strong music, Bair co-wrote the book and lyrics with Dina Soraya Gregory.

    Music director and conductor Alan Mudrick does a tremendous job with his strong 20-piece orchestra, paying full justice to Bair's lush score.

        Two women play O'Keeffe, and they are both excellent.

     We first meet O'Keeffe at 84, setting up to paint on her beloved Pedernal Mountain in New Mexico.

     John Whiting's set and Nels Martin's lighting give a strong sense of the openness and mood of New Mexico.

     Andrea Arena gives a powerful performance as the prickly artist who is fighting the loss of her eyesight and doubts about how she lived her life. Arena has a strong resemblance to the iconic O'Keeffe, but it's when she sings that you get the shivers. She's got a gorgeous alto voice that settles in your soul.

     Bair gives her the most luscious music to sing. "Hello Sky" is a good opening number because it draws us into O'Keeffe's vision and the warm, inviting melodies that will continue through the show.

     But the showstopper is "The Chestnut Tree," where the old O'Keeffe declares that it was love that made her lose her way. It's a heartbreaking song that rightly got a cry of bravos at the preview I saw Wednesday evening.

     Hurley Addair is the younger O'Keeffe, and she is a knockout, too. Her voice is gorgeous, and she handles a challenging acting role quite well, giving the younger O'Keeffe a sense of wonder that develops and hardens into the brilliant artist O'Keeffe would become.

     As with the older O'Keeffe, her initial song is a wonderful introduction to the character. In "I Could Paint This" she is dazzled by the world and all of its possibilities.

     The show follows O'Keeffe through art classes, having fun with their pretensions and dullness; her coming to New York, where a new, liberated world awaited her; and then off to Amarillo, Texas, where she went to teach in 1915.

     This is where some of the most innovative choreography, created by Ashley Meeder, comes alive in the show, as dancers turn into tumbleweeds and cactus.

     That innovation comes and goes in different ways through the show but not consistently. I'd like to have seen it carried through more.

      Director Anne Meeder has done some wonderful things here, especially with her two O'Keeffes, but her staging left  

some static moments that slowed the momentum. And some scenes are simply too long, repeating an idea one too many times.

     O'Keeffe's career took off when she met Alfred Stieglitz, a famous photographer and gallery owner, who was excited by O'Keeffe's work.

     He is an integral character in the show, but Larry Gessler, who has wowed me plenty of times at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center, is a disappointment here. He's got a limited vocal range and doesn't bring the charismatic Stieglitz alive.

     Jennifer Lobo, who plays several roles, including O'Keeffe's good friend, Anita Pollitzer, was impressive, with a powerful voice and a strong stage presence.

     In some ways, "A Woman on Paper" is battling too obviously between being innovative and telling a traditional biography.

     For example, there is a wonderful scene in Amarillo where O'Keeffe sings a duet with a cow skull (Gregg Hurley), and her artistic visions crystallize. Sounds hoaky, but it works.

     Then there is Waldo (John Kleimo) an art critic who joins the older O'Keeffe on the mountain. He is in her imagination, serving as a provocateur. Kleimo is quite fine, but the show doesn't utilize him much. For that matter, the older O'Keeffe is sometimes forgotten.

     At times we get too much biographical information thrown at us in too conventional a style.

     All shows need to develop, change and strengthen as they are being born. "A Woman on Paper" is in that process, and I am eager to see it evolve. Kudos to OperaLancaster for producing it.

     Those bones are fantastic.