Ryan Raftery had big plans for his Ivanka Trump biomusical after its run at Joe’s Pub. But that was spring 2020, and the world, of course, had other plans. Now, two years later, the playwright-actor returns to the stage with a different iconic and infamous New York personality: Andy Warhol.
“The Trial of Andy Warhol” recently premiered at Joe’s Pub, and will run through March 12. The production marks Raftery’s sixth biomusical; his previous subjects had included Calvin Klein, Martha Stewart and Anna Wintour.
“I was scrolling through Instagram and I saw on someone’s profile: ‘Andy Warhol was the world’s first influencer,'” says Raftery of landing on Warhol as his latest muse. “And that really got me thinking, because it’s so true. Once you start researching Warhol, once your antennae go up, you start to notice that you can trace many things in popular culture back to him. Everything from ‘The Real Housewives’ to TMZ to Instagram and Twitter.”
The pandemic meant that Raftery had an unexpected extra year to work on the production, which allowed him to dive deeper into research. He visited the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, visited Warhol’s grave site and met with Blake Gopnik, the author of mammoth 2020 biography “Warhol.”
“The Trial of Andy Warhol” arrives midway through the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition “Andy Warhol: Revelation,” and shortly before the premiere of Ryan Murphy’s six-part docuseries “The Andy Warhol Diaries.” Fascination with Warhol’s legacy remains strong.
But Raftery maintains that the show resonates beyond Warholian fandom; it also speaks to contemporary internet culture and the pitfalls of social media. “I think people are really going to connect with it because the show is all about fame. And what people are willing to do to be famous — how much we all want to be famous,” he says. “And that is an existential trap, because when you start looking for approval from people that don’t know you, that gives them a very dangerous amount of power over you.”
Raftery built the show’s premise around a courtroom drama, set in the afterlife — Warhol is on trial for his contribution to social media culture.
In addition to Warhol, who is played by Raftery, the musical features portrayals of Brigid Berlin, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Edie Sedgwick.
“The relationship with Edie Sedgwick ended badly, and the relationship with Jean-Michel Basquiat ended badly. So from a dramatic standpoint, that’s great,” he says. The show features a flashback from the early days of Basquiat and Warhol’s friendship, with a musical duet, “Paint With Me,” set to the tune of Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s pop hit “Rain On Me.”
Another musical number touches upon the Warholian soup can and influence on supermarkets, and the show ends with a parody of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
“The parody is that people treat you differently, especially when you’re famous. And that’s really what it boils down to,” he says. “That is why everybody wants to be verified on Instagram, because it makes people look at you in a different way, regardless of whether or not it’s warranted or if you’ve done anything to deserve it. There is now a much larger percentage of the population that are famous. And that can be traced directly back to Andy Warhol. He made being famous more famous.”
With social media and fame top of mind, Raftery didn’t have to reach far to find his next potential musical subject: Surprise, it’s Kris Jenner.