Loosely framed in a parody of contemporary "Reality TV" - an energetically comic emcee/magician ("Felix") struts out SMOKE AND MIRRORS as he introduces the audience to a "magic" show, in which guests are not only confronted by their pasts, they actually relive them.

Grigori Rasputin is brought out from the audience, a figure of unassuming stature, much like the historical Rasputin - and is stripped of his street clothes to reveal his crude peasant beginnings.    It is immediately clear that he and Felix share something unusual between them.

Next, two investigators from "The Extraordinary Commission of Inquiry for the Investigation of Illegal Acts" - the portly, comic Vladimir and Tikhon -- are introduced.   They were the actual historical agents who pursued an investigation into the life and death of Grigori Rasputin after the Revolution.  

With smoke, mirrors and comic special effects, a Russian village set is built as the villagers sing CHANGING MINDS - trying to come to grips the political and cultural transformations around them. Yet one of the village's most troubling questions surrounds a boy, Grigori Rasputin, with mysterious powers of clairvoyance that incite the town's mockery. He can heal horses and see through people's secrets.   While he conjures a vision of the Nativity - the Boy Rasputin sings WHAT I SEE to the horses in a barn.

Rasputin becomes an aggressive Don Juan, after a bored, female aristocrat's erotic practical joke leaves him in contention with his sexuality.   He marries Praskovye, a quiet peasant girl, and has a devoted daughter, Matriona, who will later follow him to St. Petersburg.  

After a nightmarish carriage ride, and a comic sexual temptation, the emcee warns Rasputin of the seductive perversions of power in THE POWER SONG. Rasputin emerges as a " holy man" with a disproportionately high number of female disciples.


After years of wandering, Rasputin returns home to a still-devoted wife.   Together, they sing THINK ONLY GOOD THOUGHTS against a stark, ironic backdrop . Rasputin believes that he is being called to serve a higher destiny and leaves for St. Petersburg.   The Tsar and Tsarina sing about their hopes for a male heir in WHAT WE NEED.   However when their son, Alexei, is born, he is dangerously ill.   Through his abilities to heal the Tsarovich, VISION SONG, Rasputin rises in favor with the royal family.   Act I closes with, SONG OF A CITY, an antic introduction to St. Petersburg - a city that, in the end, will engulf and defeat Grigori Rasputin .   During this song, the emcee, Felix, reveals that he is really Felix Youssoupov - once the wealthiest man in Russia and a prince.   Suddenly he is inextricably a part of the story, not just a magician/commentator.


Act II begins with the clear suggestion that Tanya, not Felix, is secretly orchestrating the TV show, as it turns out that the audience vote will include a verdict on Felix as well as Rasputin. Rasputin's daughter, Matriona, comes to live with her father, and speculates about life in the capital, as she sings I CAME TO LEARN .   Rasputin is disoriented from the stress of politics and severed roots, as he speaks with Praskovye who reprises THINK ONLY GOOD THOUGHTS.  


Detectives paid to guard Rasputin amuse themselves with stories about his reckless behavior and fabulous antics in THE STAIRCASE NOTES.   Yet these antics cover up a sinking soul, and Rasputin realizes that he is losing his sense of home and place as he seeks solace in desire - WOMAN OH WOMAN.   At the same time, many in St. Petersburg begin to concoct far-fetched rumors about Rasputin's treachery with the comic GREEN PEOPLE.

These rumors are exacerbated as Rasputin struggles unsuccessfully to block Russia's entry into World War I.   Tanya tries to warn Rasputin of his own blighted image, THIS FIGURE.   In YOUSSOUPOV'S SONG, Felix reveals his desire for publicity and attention as Rasputin's assassin, while the audience receives copies of his narrative, "How I Killed Rasputin" in the 1927 Manchester Chronicle .  

Trying to keep his daughter safe and innocent of the horrors he already suspects, Rasputin sings the ironic GO IN PEACE. But Rasputin's intuitions are right, and the assassination plot against him now begins in earnest.   Rasputin's death seems at first like a comic affair, a kind of Keystone Cops cartoon - until a shrill alarm sounds with the stunningly abrupt realization of what has transpired.  

In a setting fully of child-like magic, the Tsarovich sings THE WORLD OUTSIDE, as he becomes a prophetic magician, enthroned and in control of his own magical realm.   Felix's failure to recognize his deeper bonds with RASPUTIN, and his overall cynicism are judged harshly by Vladimir and Tikhon, and by the TV audience.   As Tanya takes revenge on her apparent media mentor, reprising SMOKE AND MIRRORS - "searching for a soul that's sure and wise" -- the circus-like parody of the show collapses inward, telescoping the prophetic promise of the child.

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