February House, the new musical play by Gabriel Kahane and Seth Bockley that imagines life at 7 Middagh Street in the early 1940s, when the house was inhabited by a stellar and remarkably disparate collection of poets, composers, and novelists (including a striptease artist who became a novelist while living there) of various aesthetic and sexual inclinations, is now playing at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven. It will be coming to the Public Theater in Manhattan May 8 through June 10. As our previous post noted, it got mixed reviews in the Connecticut press, with the Hartford Courant’s reviewer comparing it to Sondheim and Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George while the Examiner’s reviewer thought it “interesting but disappointing.” Now, Sylviane Gold of the Times has given it an unequivocal thumbs-up.
The New York Times: Mr. Kahane and Mr. Bockley have woven their show from strands of the literary and musical history documented in Sherrill Tippins’s 2005 book “February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof in Wartime America.” If you’re young enough, this strange-but-true mash-up of mid-20th-century cultural celebrity may mean nothing to you. But the musical, directed with an uncommonly deft touch by Davis McCallum, wears its erudition lightly. Auden, probably the dominant English poet of his generation; McCullers, a pioneer of the Southern Gothic novel; Britten, the leading British composer of the postwar years; and Lee, the burlesque queen who burlesqued burlesque, all come across as vibrant stage characters, not just famous names.
Gold writes that February House “herald[s] the arrival of a major talent [Kahane] on the musical theater scene.” She calls the play “astonishing”. The review also points out that Sherill Tippins, author of the book February House, “acted as historical consultant for the show.”