Thursday, May 17, 2012

February House **

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
The Public Theater is to be commended for commissioning Gabriel Kahane, an up-and-coming singer/songwriter, to write music and lyrics for a musical based on life at 7 Middagh Street in 1940-41. The flamboyantly gay editor George Davis hoped to turn a rundown Victorian house in Brooklyn Heights into a communal home for an unlikely bunch of talented misfits that included W.H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Benjamin Britten and Gypsy Rose Lee. Surely, the concept was a promising one. Unfortunately, the result is wildly uneven. In general, Kahane's lyrics are better than his music. The way he makes seamless transitions from dialog to song is admirable. Through words and music, the first act leisurely portrays the characters and their relationships. The second, livelier, act describes the loss of utopia. The cast of nine (Stanley Bahorek, Ken Barnett, Ken Clark, Julian Fleisher, Stephanie Hayes, Erik Lochtefeld, Kacie Sheik, A.J. Shively, Kristen Sieh) is mostly strong, although Sieh's voice lacks color. For me, the play's worst moments involved Gypsy Rose Lee. Her character is much too broadly written and played. It is unfortunate that they felt compelled to include a striptease number -- after the one in Gypsy, it was doomed to fall flat. The book, by Seth Bockley, could use some more tweaking. Riccardo Hernandez's set and Jess Goldstein's costumes are excellent. Director Davis McCallum as allowed the play to gain 20 minutes since previews began. They should be trimming, not adding. A book doctor might be able to make significant improvements. In the unlikely event you are not familiar with the past and future achievements of the house's residents, you probably will not find the play interesting. Even if you are, you still might not. Nevertheless, I am glad I saw it and support the Public for taking it on. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes including intermission.

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