Sunday, May 19, 2013

Assembling Near Heaven with One Author

I witnessed two very different shows from the pen of the same writer in one week.

When I was in the BMI Musical Theater Workshop, we learned that in a musical you learn what the main character wants by the second song. Think about it with a musical now - you'll get a sense of what they long for in the show. (In that workshop, they actually call it the "I Want" song.)

Plays are very different. And in some cases, plays do not even have a huge conflict written into them.

That's how I felt about the much nominated and critic loved The Assembled Parties on
The Assembled Parties
Broadway. I found it more of a character study and less of a fully structured show that gives us conflict, resolve, etc. Some reviewers have said that nothing happens in the show, and yet they still adore it for it's language and themes. Actually, a dear friend of mine feels the same way and has seen it numerous times.

Don't get me wrong, I love good character development in a story. And I especially love flawed characters. But I also want to know there is a reason I'm supposed to care about the plight of those characters. Richard Greenberg is a well loved playwright and obviously knows what he is doing - but this particular piece did not grab me.

Four days later I saw the limited run of the musical version of Far From Heaven for which Greenberg wrote the book. Here he was not writing an original piece, he was adapting a film written by Todd Haynes. A film that had conflict and plot already embedded in it. With music & lyrics by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (the men that wrote the musical Grey Gardens) this piece had a completely different feel from Greenberg's other piece in NY. I loved the movie when it came out and was so excited I was able to get tickets to the Sold Out limited run at Playwrights Horizons - believing it would be the next 'big thing' to see.

In the current incarnation, I'm not certain it is.

Far From Heaven
Don't get me wrong. It is beautiful and an enjoyable night at the theater. The writers and director Michael Greif have chosen to keep us in the feel of the movie. One of theme, color, tone and a true throwback to the old 50s movies that border on melodramatic. And all of that is on stage. 

ALL of it - sticking too closely to the source material instead of allowing songs to soar to another level. 

Unlike most musicals when a character sings to share their inner monologue of what they are feeling - these characters sing their dialogue like an opera (but to music that fits perfectly to the period). There is a never-ending sense of a sheer facade in this Connecticut town where letting people inside to know what is really happening in one's life seems forbidden. That is fine as the setting, except the audience isn't granted that right either. In keeping up that wall of pretense, the audience is never allowed to know how these people feel about what is happening in their lives - the very things pulling them 'away' from heaven. We never applaud one single moment in the show; it's moving at that cinematic pace and no time is given to stop the flow to give appreciation for a song. So I assumed people would jump to their feet at the brilliance of the amazing voices of Kelli O'Hara, Steven Pasquale and Isaiah Johnson when the final lights went off. But that didn't happen. 

Greenberg spent so much time on The Assembled Parties giving us a character study, that I wished he would have done a little more of that on Heaven.  I wanted the musical to rip down those upper class walls and allow us to peer into the insides of these characters going through such strong circumstances (in a certain historical period).  Instead of getting a sense of how these major decisions are affecting the lives of these characters, one leaves feeling that Hartford, CT has beautiful seasons shown through falling leaves, falling snow, and falling cherry blossoms.

1 comment:

  1. It's it interesting too - that in HEAVEN, the dialogue was very very limited. Think about it - it was mostly sung. There wasn't time for him to develop any character.