Theater / Film

Dark Musical Comedy, ‘The Great Soviet Bucket,’ Gets Premiere With Miami Light Project

Written By Miguel Sirgado
February 17, 2024 at 3:07 PM

“The Great Soviet Bucket” will have its world premiere on Thursday, Feb. 22 through Saturday, Feb. 24 at the Miami Theater Center, Miami Shores. From left, Matt Podd, pianist, Puppet “Comrade Bucket” (designed by Rachel Burson), Timur Bekbosunov, creator and lead performer, and Yvette Cornelia Holzwarth, violinist. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Powers)

In the German film Good Bye Lenin! from 2003, there is an unforgettable sequence in which a statue of Lenin is seen, through a window, flying over the city like a ghost. It should be remembered that the Bolshevik leader—father of the 1917 Russian Revolution that first implemented a Communist system—was one of the great symbols of the Eastern Bloc.

In many of those countries’ cities stood statues of Lenin, murals bearing his likeness, streets and town squares bearing his name . . .  all celebrating the deceased leader and the once triumphant Russian Revolution and Communism. In that ideology, Lenin was practically a sacred figure. Therefore seeing him being carried by helicopter in Wolfgang Becker’s film vividly reinforced the idea that change had taken place in the Soviet Bloc. A change so radical and profound that it affected even the great “god” of the Communist model: Lenin.

Its producers describe the show as a dark musical comedy that follows Timur, a dutiful Soviet citizen, and his unhinged puppet of “Mother Russia,” Comrade Bucket. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Powers)

Much has been done in the arts universe to document how suffocating it was to live under a system bent on total power over and control of its territory, even at the cost of the lives (and minds) of many affected citizens. The aftermath is evident in the devastated psyches of survivors of totalitarian regimes.

This and much more is what “The Great Soviet Bucket,” a multimedia show featuring protest and resistance songs from the former Soviet Union, intends to address. Grammy Award-nominated Kazakh-American opera singer Timur Bekbosunov, who is said to be “gifted with a spectacular vocal and emotional range,” is the headliner of this project.

He is backed on stage by pianist, composer, arranger and musical director Matt Podd, and versatile violinist, vocalist and composer, Yvette Cornelia Holzwarth. The production is directed by Sandra Powers, an Emmy-nominated Peruvian-American filmmaker, screenwriter and editor.

“The Great Soviet Bucket” will have its world premiere at the Miami Theater Center, Miami Shores, opening Thursday, Feb. 22 through Saturday, Feb. 24. It’s part of the National Performance Network/Visual Artists Network (NPN/VAN) Creation and Development Fund Project co-commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects in partnership with Miami Light Project and NPN.

Its producers describe the show as a dark musical comedy that follows Timur, a dutiful Soviet citizen, and his unhinged puppet of “Mother Russia,” Comrade Bucket. A true believer, Timur patiently tolerates the complexities of the USSR, knowing that a better future is just around the corner. His local commander, Comrade Bucket—named for an enamel bucket now part of Soviet-era folklore—encourages him to understand and embrace the way of life of the masses.

Matt Podd in “The Great Soviet Bucket” at Miami Light Project. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Powers)

One must imagine the relationship between Timur and his puppet as a dramatic device, advancing the story from political stubbornness through its absurdity. In this parody comprised of dialogue and song, the anti-heroes represented by Timur and Comrade Bucket can be a sort of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and even Batman and Robin. Anachronistic Soviet slogans and hymns serve as its backdrop, and a completely collapsed fourth wall recalls Bertlodt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera.

But as the empire of the Soviet Union begins to crumble, so does Timur’s Soviet identity. The brilliant tenor uses the songs of his childhood to raise pressing questions about the intertwined forces of identity, politics and history.

“The play is not a monodrama, but a genuine conversation with the audience, using dark satire—very bitter humor—to question, mock and dismantle certain stereotypes of the Soviet Union, trying to understand its history and relevance to contemporary events in Russia,” explains Timur, who boasts a classical background but is also a rock musician.

The play has a confessional, almost intimate tone, and is intended to be an interactive experience between the audience and what happens on stage. “The Great Soviet Bucket” explores the phenomenon of mass “brainwashing” in the Socialist Bloc’s countries, and how difficult the “de-programming” of state propaganda has been for so many.

“(Writing this work) I went back to my childhood, having grown up in the Soviet Union, in Soviet Kazakhstan, and realized that for years I had been singing official songs approved by the regime, which concealed the true Soviet reality,” says the musician. “It is very difficult to understand today’s Russia without first examining the pernicious past of the USSR.”

At left, Matt Podd, pianist, and Yvette Cornelia Holzworth, volinist, in “The Great Soviet Bucket,” a multimedia show featuring protest and resistance songs from the former Soviet Union. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Powers)

But in “The Great Soviet Bucket,” Timur departs from specifics to delve into much more encompassing questions: what is it that leads to the formation and establishment of oppressive regimes? What is it that leads people to be complacent under those regimes and—why not?—what lessons can we learn from the past so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes today and in the future?

“Russia is the example of a country that is committing atrocities (right now) and never apologized for its past,” says Timur. “(There were) families there who lost their loved ones and (also lost) their cultural identity . . . I myself, being part Kazakh and part Russian, was never allowed to speak my own native language.”

He continues, “So what does it take to carve your way out of that very difficult situation? Behind a dictator there are much bigger forces, external and internal, working to undermine democracies. And democracies are for me very fragile; people (make) the heart of them, and it is (people) who carry the resistance against the absolute powers.”

Local commander, Comrade Bucket—named for an enamel bucket now part of Soviet-era folklore—encourages Timur to understand and embrace the way of life of the masses. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Powers)

For Beth Morrison, founder, president and creative producer of BMP, it was not difficult to collaborate with an artist who she says is as complex and brilliant as Timur.  Morrison’s and BMP’s mission is “discovering” emerging or established composers dedicated to experimentation and innovation, and who take artistic risks in the realms of “opera-theater” and music theater.

“I’ve worked with him for about ten years, even a little longer, and we’ve collaborated together on a number of shows,” says Morrison. “Timur is someone I really believe in wholeheartedly, not only as a creative force, but also as an artist.”

On how the collaboration with the Miami Light Project came about, Beth Morrison says there was no doubt in her mind that MLP was the right partner for a premiere of this caliber. “Beth Boone (Miami Light Project’s artistic and executive director since 1998) I’ve known for fifteen years. She is someone who has done, and is doing, the most interesting work with experimental artists, artists who really don’t have a home in traditional institutions,” says Morrison.

WHAT:  “Timur: The Great Soviet Bucket”

WHERE: Miami Theater Center. 9806 NE 2nd Ave Miami Shores

WHEN:  8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, Friday, Feb. 23 and Saturday, Feb. 24

COST: $30 general admission (plus a $3.37 fee), $20 for students and seniors (plus a $2.92 fee),  $100, VIP include preferred seating and admission to post performance party. (VIP tickets only available for Friday, Feb. 23 performance.)  Tickets at www.eventbrite.com

INFORMATION: 305-576-4350 or miamilightproject.com

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com.

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