She’s been dead for over three decades, but Ayn Rand’s strenuous philosophy of self-interest has never gone out of style. The new musical The Anthem, playing in an open-ended run at Off Broadway’s Lynn Redgrave Theatre, is ostensibly an adaptation of her 1938’s Anthem, the gateway-drug novella that led to her Objectivism-spouting tomes The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. But unlike the nonmusical adaptation of Anthem last year at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, this production dares to strip out Rand’s self-righteous attitude in favor of a light and loopy approach. While a bit shaky in terms of its concept, the whole endeavor is so lunatic that it just about works.
The Anthem stars Jason Gotay (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) as Prometheus, a frustrated young man living with his girlfriend (Spring Awakening‘s winsome Remy Zaken) in a stultified world where individuality is squashed and sex has been downgraded to holding hands in a sterile room once a year. Prometheus encounters a forest sprite named Athena (Ashley Kate Adams), and together they lead a revolution against the totalitarian regime, represented by Pandora (Jenna Leigh Green, spiky and soulful, especially in her second-act ballad ”Pandora’s Box”) and Tiberius (founding member of the Village People Randy Jones).
The campy presence of Jones, who even cheekily references his Cowboy character, is just the tip of the kitsch iceberg. The Anthem is overstuffed with retro references. Characters slide around on cheap roller skates; a disco ball hangs over the set; floppy discs and big boxy cellular phones are among the props. Director Rachel Klein and scenic designer Robert Kovach set the action in a futurama as it might have been imagined in the early 1980s, but for no apparent reason other than to satisfy an appetite for laughs. Frequent solemn digressions into junior-league Cirque de Soleil acrobatics are adroitly choreographed but seem awkwardly out of place within the show’s madcap sci-fi environment.
And yet The Anthem makes smart choices. The song ”The Palace of Mating” serves as a backbeat for Prometheus’ treacherous, thrilling sexual discovery and inspires the whole company to break into a dirty dance, simulating intercourse in a series of burlesques. Among the couples are an all-female pair and an all-male one. Though that hardly qualifies as progressive by the standards of New York theater, it’s well outside Ayn Rand’s own views on homosexuality — namely that it is ”inhuman” and ”disgusting.” Indeed, the moment goes right to the thematic heart of what this Anthem celebrates: a great stroke of rebellion against the divine creator. B