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East Village Musical Pulls Lyrics From Ukrainian Revolution Headlines

By Serena Solomon | February 27, 2014 9:58am
 The muscial "Captain John Smith Goes to Ukraine" will take lines from the daily news headlines in the country. Bob Holman (far right) will play John Smith.
The muscial "Captain John Smith Goes to Ukraine" will take lines from the daily news headlines in the country. Bob Holman (far right) will play John Smith.
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Virlana Tkacz

EAST VILLAGE — A new musical in the East Village is taking inspiration from this month's revolution in Ukraine — with daily script updates pulled from the latest headlines.

"Captain John Smith Goes to Ukraine," which opens Thursday night at La MaMa Theater, includes up-to-the-moment references to the uprising in Kiev. The musical also tells the story of Smith, a British soldier who explored Eastern Europe in the 1600s — meeting the ancestors of the people who are now fighting for a new government in Ukraine — before coming to the New World and encountering Pocahontas.

"We do this all in an hour, an epic in an hour with lots of humor and personal touches from the cast, and now we have been swept up in this Ukrainian revolution," said Bowery Poetry's Bob Holman, who is playing the part of Smith.

The musical's final number, a traditional Ukrainian song called "Truth and Lies," dates back to the 17th century, about the time Smith traveled to the region. Now, Holman and the other performers are putting their own spin on the classic lines.

"We translate the poem by quoting from each day's headlines, so the script is changing every day," Holman said.

One of the song's original lines — "The good folk of the Ukraine are treated as liars while the liars are treated as heroes" — is already an accurate reflection of the revolution, he explained.

To further reflect current events, Holman added his own line: "Truth is not allowed in the door while the liars are partying with the 1 percent."

Holman said that line came from this week's first glimpses inside the lavish former residence of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted several days ago. When protesters stormed his mansion and property, they found a zoo, a collection of vintage cars and a golf course, according to The New York Times.

The toppling of Yanukovych comes after protesters entrenched themselves for more than three months in Kiev's Independence Square. In the past two weeks, the uprising turned deadly as Ukrainian security forces opened fire, killing dozens of protesters and further fueling the revolt. 

Holman sees deep connections between the revolution and Smith's little-known Eastern European travels, during which he documented the lives of people in what is now Ukraine.

"It seems that he made contact with these [Ukrainian] people that were different from anywhere else," Holman said.

Smith later traveled to North America and established the first English colony at Jamestown.

In the East Village show, Holman will perform alongside Julian Kytasty, a Ukrainian oral poet, and Susan Hwang, a blues musician and comic. The musical is directed by Virlana Tkacz from Yara Arts Group, and the performers all contributed to the ever-changing script.

Holman, whose grandparents are Ukrainian, was most recently in Kiev on a tour with an earlier  version of the musical in September.

"That was the feeling we got when we toured the Ukraine," Holman said, "and that feeling is very much a part of the people standing up to this corrupt government."

La MaMa Theatre is located at 74A E. Fourth St. The musical runs from Feb. 27 to March 9 and tickets are $10.