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Dancing with the tsars: Rock musical ‘Beardo’ shows life and death of Rasputin

Sacred space: St. John’s Luthern Church will provide a romantic backdrop to “Beardo,” a dark musical about a smooth-talking holy man who seduced the Russian empress.
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Rah-rah Rasputin!

A Greenpoint church will give center stage to a mad monk next month, hosting a rock musical inspired by the life and times of Grigori Rasputin, the infamous Siberian peasant-turned-holy-man who sexed his way to a position of power in the Russian monarchy. “Beardo,” opening Feb. 3 at St. John’s Lutheran Church, explores Rasputin’s mysterious ascent to power in a genre-bending format that is as wild as its subject, said the show’s director.

“It’s mysterious, it’s weird. It’s not a straightforward Russian period piece, by any means,” said Bedford-Stuyvesant resident Ellie Heyman. “I mean there’s a line in one of the songs, ‘He’s a weirdo with a beardo, misbehavin’ and unshaven.’ There’s an edginess to this.”

The show centers on Beardo — a fictional re-imagining of Rasputin — as he learns the mystic arts and seduces his way into St. Petersburg society, going from peasant to faith healer to trusted advisor of the Russian czar. It also captures the chinstrapped charmer’s salacious cycle of sinning, which involves joining orgies so that he can later don his hair shirt, repent, and become closer to God. The show’s setting among St. John’s high arched ceilings and stained glass windows enhances its holy, eerie ambiance.

The two-hour performance is told through eclectic original tunes composed by Dave Malloy, who also created the current Broadway hit “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812,” based on Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” The music does not include the 1970s disco “Ra Ra Rasputin,” but it does include original rock, electro-pop, and a classical quartet that uniquely captures the Siberian psychic’s journey, said Heyman.

“I think that music is so emotional and it will connect audiences with these characters in a way that is really unique to the format,” said Heyman. “And I think it allows us to get to know these really strange people quickly — for things to get raucous and unhinged in surprising ways and for the audience to have this vivid experience.” In one song, a down-and-out Beardo croons to St. Petersburg as though the city were a girlfriend on the verge of breaking-up with him.

“It’s really heartbreaking in his plea for her to not betray him,” said Heyman. “It feels very ’90s rock star to me.”

Another standout moment is the “murder ballet” that turns Rasputin’s dramatic assassination — where he was shot, poisoned, and drowned — into a choreographed dance of death. It all makes for a dark, dazzling show, said Heyman.

“I think that it’s a dark, sexy, off-kilter story that’s going to feel dangerous and really unlike anything you’ve ever seen,” she said.

“Beardo” at St. John’s Lutheran Church [155 Milton St. between Franklin Street and Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, (718) 389–4012, www.pipelinetheatre.org]. Feb. 3–26, Tue–Sat at 8 pm. $25–$60.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Updated 6:33 pm, January 30, 2017
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