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Arts Eclectic turns the spotlight on happenings in the arts and culture scene in and around the Austin area. Through interviews with local musicians, dancers, singers, and artists, Arts Eclectic aims to bring locals to the forefront and highlight community cultural events.Support for Arts Eclectic comes from Broadway Bank.

'A curiosity about musicals': Alchemy Theatre brings new life to 'King of Hearts'

Alchemy Theatre

This weekend, Austin’s Alchemy Theatre will open their production of King of Hearts, a 1978 musical by Joseph Stein, Jacob Brackman, and Peter Link, based on a 1966 French film of the same name. Neither the musical or the film are well-remembered these days, which is in keeping with much of the work produced by Alchemy. They seem to specialize in breathing new life into hidden-gem musicals.

“It's not that we aim to do that,” says Alchemy artistic director Michael Cooper. “It's just that the Alchemy has a curiosity about musicals that suddenly get lost along the way or don't make it for some reason, but still have great redeeming qualities to them. And basically, the score is gorgeous. It's a beautiful score and it has very powerful themes within the storyline and that fits within the Alchemy goals and vision.”

“But I think that more than that, the musical is just fun,” says producer Marnie Near. “It's a romantic escape and it has the most enchanting music that you'll ever hear. It has this [anti-war] theme going through, but really at its heart, it's a love story. The show really takes you to this small town in France right after World War One and you get to experience it through the eyes of Johnny Able, this American soldier who's called into the town to diffuse a bomb. And everyone has left the town except for all the people that live in the local insane asylum. And so… the whole setup of that lends itself to humor and humanness.”

“I just rewatched [the 1966 film] in advance of talking about it because I hadn't seen it in probably a couple of decades,” says film historian Lars Nilsen. “[The director] was a young filmmaker at the time, Philippe de Broca, one of those French filmmakers who was very prolific, made a lot of high-quality work but wasn't necessarily all that well known – still not all that well known, in keeping with the nature of what Alchemy Theatre does with their rehab projects for musicals.”

The movie, Nilsen says, wasn’t much of a hit in Europe but somewhat surprisingly became something of a cult hit in the US a few years after its initial release. “It was a really giant cult arthouse hit that ran for – in one theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts – ran for four years. But it really struck a nerve because it has an anti-war theme, particularly an Anti-Vietnam War theme, even though it's a movie that's set in the waning days of World War One. And audiences really got it.”

“I'm hoping that audiences take away the themes that are presented in this and also have a great time. It's exciting theatrically because we get to play – me as a director, actors who are acting and singing this – we get to play with reality versus non reality, insanity versus sanity, you know, who's insane and who's not insane. And there is a lot of humor inherent in that and it does come out. Not to say that there aren’t [also] some sad moments in it and some poignant moments because it is a love story and it's Johnny working his way through the fantastical world of these people who are deemed insane.”

'King of Hearts' runs May 31 - June 16 at ZACH Theatre's Whisenhunt Stage

Mike is the production director at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, and the Sonic ID project, and also produces videos and cartoons for When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
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