Sometimes art imitates life, and sometimes life imitates art. And sometimes the two combine in an eerily prescient performance that both inspires and unsettles.
Such is the case with Bleeding Love, the self-described post-apocalyptic musical podcast that serves as a both a fanciful escape and a cautionary tale.
One might assume that Bleeding Love, a futuristic tale in which, following an environmental disaster humans are trapped inside and too fearful to journey into the bleak, perpetual winter outside their doors, was culled from current headlines. The musical actually premiered in 2015 at Denmark’s Fredericia Teater, which inspires questions of whether composer Arthur Lafrentz Bacon, bookwriter Jason Schafer, and lyricist Harris Doran could see into the future.
Suggested by Oscar Wilde’s “The Nightingale and the Rose,” Bleeding Love, which is available on the Broadway Podcast Network, chronicles the adventures of plucky heroine Bronwyn (Sarah Stiles), a sheltered cello prodigy who has not set foot outside her overbearing aunt’s (Annie Golden) home since she was four years old. Bronwyn spends her days at the apartment window, gazing out at empty streets, where she notices the drug-addled, codependent couple Lolli (Rebecca Naomi Jones) and Puppy (Tony Vincent). When the former demands that the latter prove his love by bringing her a red rose – an impossibility in a world where it is always snowing – Bronwyn intervenes, her own crush on Puppy motivating her offer to help. She is assisted by Sweet William (Taylor Trensch), the son of her building’s brokenhearted, gun-obsessed Super (Marc Kudisch), who harbors a crush on the “beautiful, brilliant Bronwyn.”
Voiced by the actors from their own homes during the quarantine in New York, Bleeding Love’s cast of Broadway veterans bring their characters to vibrant life through Bacon and Doran’s widely varied score. Stiles, a highlight of last season’s Tootsie on Broadway, simultaneously infuses Bronwyn with naïve innocence as well as surprisingly steely courage. As her bed-ridden aunt, Annie Golden’s recollections of her lusty, musical past offer welcome levity to the more somber elements of the story. Vincent embodies the appeal of an irresistible bad boy, while Jones’s sultry vocals convey Lolli’s frenzied energy and sexuality, inspiring questions about her life before she met Puppy. As Bronwyn’s lovestruck neighbor, Trensch skillfully avoids the clichés of the infatuated friend, while Kudisch, who also narrates the podcast, portrays his anger and grief lurking dangerously close to the surface through his sonorous baritone.
The fantastical aspects of the story, which offer hope that true love can heal the world, are balanced by the darker undertones, smoothly incorporating elements of PTSD, the self-serving motives behind seemingly charitable actions and the line between infatuation and obsession, alongside the obvious dangers of global warming and gun violence. Happily, the trio’s tale, in which the seemingly innocent Bronwyn, Puppy and Sweet William are revealed to possess self-serving ulterior motives, avoids the tired trope of a pure, sweet girl falling for the bad-body rebel and helping him to transform into a good man.
While the recording, directed and edited by Doran, which features a seven-piece band with Steffen Schackinger on guitar, Florian Navarro on reeds, Jakob Rosendahl Povisen on violin, Tobias Lautrup on cello, Allan Nagel on bass, Lars Mollenberg on drums and musical director Martin Konge on keyboards, does inspire thoughts of how the show would be staged, the three-part podcast offers quality entertainment in and of itself.
Bleeding Love may not be the escapist entertainment some long for amidst simultaneous national crises but with its stellar cast, creative score and eerily prescient story, it is a vital, necessary one.
Bleeding Love is produced by The Broadway Podcast network, Tony award winner Dori Berinstein and Alan Seales, in association with Kent Nicholson, Katie Rosin and Steve Saporito.