Outlined by a long string of pearls and her signature black bobbed helmet, silent screen star Louise Brooks materializes like a torch in the sassy hands of actress and co-writer Pamela Shafer.
Shafer’s Brooks is irrepressible, vamping, singing and blazing a trail from Broadway to Hollywood to Berlin before the star’s famous disappearance into indigence and obscurity in upstate New York.
This fascinating, beguiling Jazz Age cabaret-style musical bio, developed Off Broadway last summer and making its West Coast premiere, is a wedding cake of a showbiz memoir.
Sleekly costumed in tastefully revealing black silk dresses, the leggy Shafer is much taller than her impish subject, but that’s the only incongruity in this striking mirror of Brooks’ sexy innocence.
The production, crisply directed by co-writer John Moser, is flavorfully framed and embellished by the show’s only other member, onstage pianist/co-author/lyricist-composer Charles Geyer. Geyer also mercurially doubles as an assortment of well-known lovers and celebs in Brooks’ life, from Ziegfeld to Chaplin to Louella Parsons to Paramount boss B.P. Schulberg to German director G.W. Pabst.
Brooks’ alliance with Pabst, a maverick like herself, dramatizes the zenith of her career as she flees Hollywood for Deutschland and the great mythic role of Lulu, her lasting legacy, in the 1929 silent movie “Pandora’s Box”– capped by Pabst’s uncanny prediction (following Brooks’ self-described one-night stand with the famous director) that Brooks would wind up like the tragic femme fatale.
Production wisely dwells little on Brooks’ obscure later years (she died at 79 in 1985 after completing her memoirs). Sketchily dramatized are the double ravages of her latter-day alcoholism and independent spirit, with lone financial support credited to network chief William Paley.
Geyer’s music (abetted by some major tunesmiths of the period) is bright and his acting vignettes sharply detailed, notably his flamboyant interpretation of journalist Kenneth Tynan. Tynan’s character opens the production with the critic’s 1979 rediscovery of Brooks, whom he finds living in a kind of Norma Desmond state of exile in a Rochester, N.Y., apartment.