Tulipomania: Review Roundup

The cast of Tulipomania

The world premiere of Arden Theater’s commissioned musical Tulipomania has opened to primarily negative reviews. The creative team includes Michael Ogborn (book, lyrics and music), Terrence J. Nolen (direction), James Kronzer (sets), John Stephen Hoey (lights), Rosemarie E. McKelvey (costumes), Jorge Cousineau (sound), and Dan Kazemi (orchestration). The cast includes Billy Bustamante, Jeff Coon, Ben Dibble, Joilet  F. Harris, Adam Heller, and Alex Keiper.

David Anthony Fox (City Paper): Michael Ogborn’s musical, loosely based on history, explores the Dutch tulip craze of the 1630s. … A teensy-but-entertaining cabaret piece might be made of this, but composer-lyricist-librettist Ogborn is aiming bigger: Tulipomania aspires to be a kind of Brechtian moral fable about greed and politics. This would, however, require cogent, thematically rich writing. Instead, we get a parade of twee, by-the-numbers songs in dizzyingly incompatible styles only fitfully reminding us that Ogborn has previously exhibited real talent. The show also is mystifyingly framed as a play-within-a-play in which the denizens of an Amsterdam pot bar play all the characters. … Let’s hope Ogden stops before venturing deeper into the canon of Dutch historical fantasy.

Kathryn Osenlund (Curtain Up): Tulipomania takes ages to heat up while strangers sing very nicely about tulips and nothing seems to be happening. By the time the music takes on a compelling rhythm and the story starts to cook … it’s too late to spark audience interest. … Yet all the music is imaginative and beautiful with gorgeous underlying harmonies. Ogborn’s lively lyrics, mostly wonderful, at times show a wooden-shoe-horned cutesy side. … Despite noteworthy singing and acting, and an audience-pleasing jazzy “Tulipofinale” fronted by fluid Billy Bustamante, the show remains a high concept piece that’s slow on the ground.

Wendy Rosenfield (Philadelphia Inquirer): Unfortunately, this feat’s execution is far more conventional and far less interesting than it sounds. … Ogborn’s music fares better, at least in its tunefulness, but too often the songs, in a potpourri of styles from Middle Eastern to American folk, sound as if their lyrics, like the hash bar, were wedged into this piece. … I’ve said it before, and will say it again: When a musical’s leading characters are called “Man” or “Woman,” it’s often a bad sign. Surely full-grown characters expected to carry both a tune and a show’s emotional core deserve the dignity of names. … Ogborn’s material, much like those long-ago Dutch tulips, is a bust.

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