Yoko Ono

new york rock


"Yoko Ono, Optimist-Pessimist, writes a musical"

The New York TImes (March 1994): "Theater is a new experience for me and I love it," Ms. Ono says, turning to the business at hand, namely her show. "I wasn't intending to do it. I go by the flow. Most people think I'm a determined woman with a plan for everything. I was doing avant-garde movies before I got together with John. I became fascinated with rock and pop, and I went there instead of resisting and saying no, I'm from the avant-garde. I learned so much and it gave me a lot of joy."

"The result is a contemporary love story between a man and a woman, destroyed by violence in New York City. "It's a worldwide phenomenon that all cities are dangerous, not just New York," she says. "I was reading books on World War II and how resilient people were. In Leningrad, when they were attacked by the Germans, they were out of food and water, and when there were no more words the D.J. put a clock on the microphone and let it tick and that sound sustained them. How resilient human beings are! I have a romantic feeling about the human race. They fall in love despite fear of AIDS, cancer or the street, showing there is hope. That's the one thing we have, the survival instinct. Love for being human, love for life."

"If I had done it completely my way, the play would have more the feel of a grainy, black-and-white film or of Waiting for Godot"

Glenn Kelly / Rolling Stone, 1994: "On the barely dressed stage of a tiny theater on New York's West Side, three teen-age boys are wandering about, singing and doing little dance moves. A choreographer coaches one of the kids on a particularly tricky move, which involves jumping on top of an overturned trash can and sitting down on it while singing. The director cues the music: some rudimentary rock-guitar licks and boogie-woogie-style piano. The three fresh-faced boys then sing, with brio: "All day long/I felt like/ Smashing my face through a clear glass w-i-i-i-ndow!"

The lyrics come from the Yoko Ono song "I Felt Like Smashing My Face in a Clear Glass Window," which appeared on her 1973 album Approximately Infinite Universe. That song promises to be one of the show stoppers in New York Rock, an Ono-scripted and -composed musical that opened March 3 and runs through April 17 at New York's off-off-Broadway WPA theater.

The production promises several surprises for those who regard Ono as a slightly dotty avant-gardist. While the musical numbers give it more the feel of a revue than a full-fledged drama, New York Rock has a rudimentary, boy-meets-girl plot that at several points echoes the story of Ono and her late husband, John Lennon. But what will really open audiences' eyes--and ears--are the songs, drawn from nearly every phase of Ono's career. Even her most nakedly emotional tunes fit in surprisingly well with the New York musical-theater tradition.

Ono's entry into the world of greasepaint and scrims was a roundabout one. "A couple of years ago I was approached by someone in San Francisco who was working on a project involving virtual reality," Ono recalls in the spacious kitchen of her apartment at the Dakota. "I began working on a script, but what he wanted was just a lot of surreal imagery, with me singing in front of it but no story. And I felt I wanted to make a statement."

Ono let her script gather dust for about a year and then considered the possibility of producing it theatrically. She showed the script to an old friend, music-industry mogul David Geffen, who put her in touch with the WPA. "Who would have thought that me, at my age, who knows this city so well, could discover a whole new world in it?" Ono says.

New York Rock has its share of dark moments; the idyllic love story at its core is constantly encroached on by urban misery in the form of street urchins and junkie criminals, one of whom brings that story to a tragic end. But Ono concedes the importance of putting her songs in a more audience-accessible context, for which she relied heavily on director Phillip Oesterman. Ono notes that she would never have thought of staging "I'm Your Angel," from Double Fantasy, as a Cafe Carlyle-style number sung by a lovely young woman in a bathtub.

"If I had done it completely my way, the play would have more the feel of a grainy, black-and-white film or of Waiting for Godot," says Ono. "But I felt the statement of this play--a love letter to New York, an observation that the entire world is becoming a war zone and that we can only pull out of it together--should be as accessible as possible."

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