[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/83467?ns=guardian&pageName=Lady+Gaga%27s+Monster+Ball%2C+reviewed+by+a+theatre+critic%3AArticle%3A1311891&ch=Music&c3=GU.co.uk&c4=Lady+Gaga%2CPop+and+rock+%28Music+genre%29%2CMusic%2CTheatre%2CCulture+section%2CCanada+%28News%29&c6=Kelly+Nestruck&c7=09-Nov-30&c8=1311891&c9=Article&c10=Blogpost&c11=Music&c13=&c25=Music+blog&c30=content&h2=GU%2FMusic%2Fblog%2FMusic+blog[/img]Her world tour, The Monster Ball, kicked off in Canada over the weekend with a show she described as being "in the style of an opera". We sent a theatre critic to survey the spectacle …
Since Mamma Mia hit the boards a decade ago, the lines between musical theatre and pop concerts have become increasingly blurred. So, taking Gaga at her word, I donned my theatre critic hat (a tuque actually, it's getting cold here in Canada) and went to Toronto's Air Canada Centre to find out if Stefani Germanotta is the Pokerface of a new musical theatre?
Of The Monster Ball, Lady Gaga told Rolling Stone: "The theatrics and story elements are in the style of an opera." And yet I'm scratching my head to think of an opera that includes a lesbian orgy in a dentist's chair. La Traviata? The style seems more like a cross between The Phantom of the Opera and Cirque du Soleil – at least in the opening number, when Gaga dons a mask and sings Dance in the Dark while mimes dressed in white gyrate around her.
As for story, I quickly abandoned the search for a coherent one. Gaga jumps into a giant white cube with her keytar, sings songs about fame, money and monsters for the next two hours, and then departs in a woman-sized gyroscope. The dialogue didn't really clear up the plot, either, since most of it consisted of "Scream for me, my little monsters!" and "What's up, Toronto?".
Music and lyrics
Rather than approaching The Monster Ball as an opera or book musical,
perhaps it makes more sense to imagine it as a song cycle, like Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World.
Gaga's catchy songs might not form a traditional narrative, but her lyrics are thematically linked by an exploration and examination of the Dionysian, the grotesque and, of course, rough oral sex. To the double entendre of Poker Face, Gaga has now added – in new song Teeth – an exhortation to "take a bite of my bad-girl meat". Those who think this has no antecedent in musical theatre, however, should remember Mrs Lovett's plea to Sweeney Todd to "take a bite" of her meat pies, the worst in London: "Is that just disgusting? You have to concede it! It's nothing but crusting!"
While I have seen suggestive dance moves in many a Kander and Ebb musical, The Monster Ball is the only time I have seen a pas de trois meant to evoke double penetration. Especially one in which two men are dressed like the horses from Equus.
It's obvious that Lady Gaga was part of the burlesque revival in New York before she became a big-time pop star. Almost every one of her songs involves her walking on stage dressed in some bizarre get-up and then removing bits of it until she's down to a series of well-placed straps or strategically located bits of scrap metal.
But The Monster Ball ain't Gypsy. During Boys, Boys, Boys, for instance, Gaga wore an outfit made out of guns (and a hat consisting entirely of muzzles) and slowly disarmed. Similarly, during Monster, she arrived dressed as – it seemed to me, anyway – a huge, hairy vagina. During this song, she removed tufts of her costume until she was down to a thin landing strip of apparel. Not even La Cage Aux Folles and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert could beat this wardrobe.
While The Monster Ball has nothing on the great operas or the golden age of musical theatre, Lady Gaga's "electro-pop opera" is at least twice as entertaining and infinitely fresher than any stage musical written over the last decade. No need to write that sequel to We Will Rock You, Ben Elton – Lady Gaga's done it for you.
Kelly Nestruck is the theatre critic for Canada's the Globe and Mail
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Guardian: Lady Gaga's Monster Ball, reviewed by a theatre critic
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