But for all of its history and art-history lessons, The Blue Flower is not an intellectual experience. It's a stream of artwork, video, and oft-mesmerizing music — the interior decoration and soundtrack of the haunted Max's mind as it tries to reconstitute in memory the friends lost across two wars and the giddying but ultimately squandered Weimar opportunity to wake up from the nightmare and go, as one song would have it, "No Place But Up."
At the ART, Will Pomerantz directs the fluid production, with its parade of fragmented imagery and amputated manikin parts. As a string-pulling character called Fairytale Man, Tom Nelis glides through the proceedings, but as movement director he supplies a choreography that is effectively mechanistic and jerky. And if the strong cast of New York actors/singers can't put much flesh on their characters, they can infuse their music with lushness and longing. Backed by a terrific on-stage band in which piano and cello (and occasionally bassoon or accordion) supply the ravishing melodies and pedal steel guitar provides the twang, their characters make their most urgent connections through harmony, the script providing no other outlet.
Daniel Jenkins is the deep yet mousy Max, who shuts down after plowing through his bloody war and who responds to the rise of Nazidom by forsaking German for his personal Esperanto — in which, abetted by surtitles or translation, he's impishly expressive. As Franz, who dies repeatedly in Max's memory, Lucas Kavner is all stony yearning, teamed with Teal Wicks's Maria on the delicate "Love" or riding the harsh yet lyrical wave of "Franz's War." Maria is perhaps the least developed character, but Wicks brings a mournful sensitivity and gorgeous pipes to the moving ballad "Eiffel Tower."
Meghan McGeary, who has been with The Blue Flower since it was a seed (and is the other half of Bauer's folk duo Dagmar), also gets a pretty number, the achingly valedictory "Angels on the Levee." But as the helmet-haired Hannah, in a little black cone of a skirt, she also snarls her way though some harshly whimsical cabaret setpieces, among them one in which she wears tattered wings while nailing projected bugs with a fly swatter. She may sleep with Max, but she's Dada's girl.
STRIKING 12: It’s hard not to root for a holiday show in which the Tiny Tim figure freezes to death in a fit of hallucinogenic joy.
Music also drives Striking 12 — it just doesn't go far. This ingeniously conceived but somewhat forced alternative holiday musical is the work of the pop trio GrooveLily, who debuted it in 2002 and continue to perform it. For SpeakEasy Stage Company, which offers the Boston premiere (at the Calderwood Pavilion through January 2), a trio of local musicians not only tell the story — a mash-up of New Year's Eve bashing and Hans Christian Andersen — but also play GrooveLily. Which makes the show's alleged improvisational element ring false. That said, the cast and some of the songs are likable, and it's hard not to root for a holiday show in which the Tiny Tim figure freezes to death in a fit of hallucinogenic joy.