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|A CurtainUp Review
Dream True, My Life with Vernon Dex
With so few musicals showing up in Off-Broadway theaters this summer, it was nice to see two new shows opening within ten days. Exactly Like You (our review) brought fun, silliness, catchy tunes and even some dancing. Dream True can't be described with any of these adjectives. That's not to say it isn't entertaining. It is an interesting adaptation of George DuMaurier's 1991 novel Peter Ibbetson. Ricky Ian Gordon's score, with excellent orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, suits the operatic plot. Interesting but far from perfect, so it calls for an open-minded theater goers willing to overlook its flaws.
Ms. Landau uses the same element of a relationship between two children with a hold so strong that it maintains its hold over decades of separation, and eventually enables them to communicate through their dreams. Instead of DuMaurier's sweethearts Peter and Mimsey, we have orphaned boys who become blood brother close. Like Peter and Mimsey, Peter (Alex Bowen as the boy; Jeff McCarthy as the man) and Vernon (Jase Blankfort as the boy; Daniel Jenkins as the man ) are separated when Peter's mother (Jessica Molaskey) sends him away from the open spaces of Wyoming to live with an uncle in New York who can give him more advantages. Mother's intentions are good but misguided. Peter never gets over his sense of abandonment. And who can blame him? His uncle, who being a psychiatrist should know better, makes no attempt to keep him in touch with his mother.
Peter never sees his mother again but the grown men are, quite by chance, reunited in New York. . The bond between them is strong as ever. Since Vernon is gay and would like more than the spiritual relationship the married Peter has in mind, the friends go their separate way again -- except through their dream connection. The shifts from the wide open spaces of Wyoming (which Peter tries to metaphorically capture in the buildings he designs as an architect) to New York are enhanced enormously be Jan Hartley's beautiful projections and Scott Zielinski's lighting.
It's too bad that this strange little musical tries to do too much, probably because Ms. Landau as director as well as book and lyric writer tries to do too much. A more distanced director would perhaps have been able to focus on the friendship without muddying the waters with such excesses as gay activism (complete with a gay rights anthem that is exceeded only by a jazzy song and dance called "The Best Years of Our Lives" for introducing jarringly inappropriate plot and musical elements). With another director at the helm, Ms. Landau's work might also have been guided towards moving the characters around the stage more gracefully and dramatizing the dream connections more effectively. As it is, those arm raises and leg crossing look as if they'd been borrowed from a movement class at a health club.
The eleven member cast boasts some top notch voices. Jeff McCarthy is sympathetic and strong in the main part, especially once he's past the silly arm raising and leg crossing business that he's forced to go through even before the play begins. Judy Kuhn, who plays his wife Madge, is also appealing. Her duet with McCarthy, "What's Best for You," is a standout, as is Jessica Molaskey's "Finding Home." The show's biggest and most moving number, "We Will Always Walk Together," is introduced in Act one and reprised at the end. The other roles are also capably filled. Alex Bowen and Jase Blankford as the young Peter and Vernon both act better than they sing. Stephen Skybell, whom I've seen doing excellent work in Shakespeare plays, has been directed to overdo the excessively uptight psychiatrist who is desperately in need of help with his own conflicted emotions..
For all its flaws and excesses Dream True is one of the more unusual musical dramas to have come down the pike. The adventurous theater goer will find enough satisfactions to compensate for its often muddy waters and somewhat pompous grand opera attitude.