Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Broadway Steps Back in Time

Broadway Photo Shoot
Back in the 80s and 90s, we had endless epic pop musicals from Les Mis to Tale of Two Cities to Cyrano. Each telling a historical tale, yet with a score that didn't match the time period. (Around that time, I was trying to write my own sweeping love/pop musical and was told the score simply didn't match the period.) The 2000s showed us musicals from other time periods that were able to capture their period musically. (Chaplin, A Christmas Story, The Wild Party.) Walking into the Broadway Theater, I feel as if I've stepped back in time with the new musical Doctor Zhivago and I don't mean to World War I Russia. I mean the team behind this show is right back in the 80s/90s trying to recreate the epic musicals of that time. 

I loved Lucy Simon's music for The Secret Garden and I've often enjoyed lyrics by Michael
2011 Australian Production
Korie, but what they have given us for this musical could be ripped from any other show and set down in this one. While beautiful, nothing feels specific or connected to this piece. (They do manage to use "Somewhere My Love" from the film.) So much of this show is derivative of something else that nothing comes off as fresh or new. (There is a tavern scene that if you squint will remind you of "To Life" right out of Fiddler.) Zhivago goes around stating his name and you expect him to scream "I'm Jean Valjean". Even the beautiful love theme "Now" feels like a pop song you've already heard before. I found all of this so disappointing as it didn't make me care anything for the characters.

You want to feel something for Zhivago and Lara (even if you've never seen the film). Yet their great romance literally is rushed, coming out of nowhere and while there is so much story to cover, too much time is spent on a nurse chorus, a soldier chorus, townspeople singing - that the writers have forgotten to let us see the two leads fall in love and enjoy it. 

2011 Australian Production
I will say that Tam Mutu and Kelli Barrett both have stunning voices when they do sing and much of what they give is enjoyable. Mutu is singing, acting, and aging his heart out on that stage. What a great leading man. I'd love to see him in another vehicle that really allows me to care about him more on stage. There are some wonderful musical performances including Paul Alexander Nolen as Lara's husband and a quintet that adds Lori Lee Gayer as Zhivago's wife and Tom Hewitt as the man who always loved Lara is also beautiful. Too bad we didn't get more of those moments giving us character work on these five main people. I've seen Tom Hewitt in numerous shows and I couldn't help but feel his talent is being wasted in this role. And Gayer as the loving wife who doesn't understand why her husband needs to stray…well, I just gave you more in that sentence than any character work I see she gets in the book for this show.  

The costumes are stunning and the constantly moving sets are sufficient (though I wish there were less projections of people's faces throughout), but even this wasn't enough to make me fall in love with this big romance the way I know the producers want us to. (And those producers were there tonight in the preview audience smiling at each other when the audience stood at the end.) I couldn't tell if it's because we stand for everything now or because after 2 hours and 40 minutes, people were ready to leave the Russia were people either spoke American or British. Not a Russian accent among them.

This is one I'd love to hear some of the songs sung in a cabaret sometime and would skip the show that desperately wants to be the Les Miserables of 2015.

(This show is currently in previews which means things are constantly changing prior to opening - however, the items I mention are not likely to change within the next few weeks. They are already integrated into the show and would only change from an out of town tryout which this show had in Australia.)

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