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A CurtainUp Review
Far From Heaven

"Sometimes its the people outside our world we confide in best.—Raymond

"Why? Just because they're outside?"—Cathy

"And because they may have had experiences similar to ours. Because they care to listen."—Raymond
Kelli O'Hara
Photo: Joan Marcus
After a buzz, buzz, buzz propelled trial run at last year's Williamstown Theater Festival, the musical Far From Heaven has landed at Playwrights Horizons' beautiful Main Stage. The mostly good news. .

  • The show has shed almost half an hour making for a leaner and more engaging book though Greenberg still sticks almost slavishly close to the Todd Haynes film— probably because wants you to view it through the lens of its time frame and not from a present-day perspective. .

  • The Williamstown FFH had some songs that not only did nothing for the show but somehow made it harder to appreciate the high quality ones. All these offender are now gone. Well, not quite all. Cutting the scene in which Cathy and her friends sing about their sex lives wouldn't be missed.

  • Kelli O'Hara is on board to reprise her superb portrayal of Cathy Whitaker the show's linchpin character, even though she's pregnant. . .a probably unplanned coincidence with Julianne Moore's pregnancy during the filming of Todd Haynes' tribute to Douglas Sirk's 1950's melodramas on which the musical is based.

  • While the year between the Williamstown and New York production have brought some inevitable cast changes, key players like Steven Pasquale as Cathy's closeted husband and Nany Anderson as her best friend are still in the cast

  • Isaiah Johnson actually brings charisma, warmth and a fine voice to the only new major character, Raymond Deagan, the gardener whose skin color made social interaction with a white woman a risky proposition in 1957.

The viability of a musical based on a film that could easily have been a campy potboiler but became a cult classic because of its fidelity to a particular cinematic style is still likely to divide audiences. For those whose musical theater tastes run to catchy songs, peppy choreography and eye popping visuals, shades of Pippin, will find neither hummable songs or foot tapping dance numbers in Far From Heaven.

Allen Moyer's scaffolded Rent-like set (not unexpected given that Michael Greif is the director) with its minimal metal props does convey the boxed-in emotional wasteland of the Whitakers' world. However, it's only rescued from being quite visually unappealing by Peter Nigrini's wonderful upstage projections and Greif's mood supporting staging.

For the ever growing audience for new more serious and operatic musicals like Light in the Piazza which also starred Kelli O'Hara and Next to Normal (also directed by Michael Greif), Scott Frankel's and lyricist Michael Korie's last musical collaboration Grey Gardens , their Far From Heaven will be a not to be missed new entry into this genre.

I've found that these more serious and heavy on dissonance musicals do tend to need a lot of fine tuning as well as second viewing to be fairly evaluated. Having seen the initial productions of Next to Normal, Grey Gardens, and now Far From Heaven, I can attest to this. The changes in FFH, while not enormous, are substantial enough to make my second viewing a much more emotionally compelling and generally engaging experience.

The whole opening scene now draws you right in. The scene in which Cathy and Eleanor discuss and sing about upholstery is thankfully reduced to a snippet. O'Hara is better than ever all around, and especially so in her moving interchanges with Isaiah Johnson. These include some of the show's best and most moving songs — "Miro," "The Only One" and "A Picture In Your Mind." Her second act solo, "Tuesday, Thursday," is a stunning aside to her telephone conversation with her soon to be ex-husband that wryly reflects on the 1950s Norman Rockwell life she's been leading.

Nancy Anderson again lives up to her character's surname (Eleanor Fine) and her duet with Cathy, "I'm Your Friend" deserves its second act reprise. Steven Pasquale who's a seasoned contemporary style musical singer (he initiated the role of Fabrizio in Light in the Piazza) remains something of a frustrating cipher. He does, however, come closer to revealing himself more fully when he breaks down in the second act with "I Never Knew."

The role playing versatility of the ensemble is most impressively illustrated by J. B. Adams as Morris Farnsworth and the psychiatrist Cathy and Frank hope will help them save their sexless marriage by "curing" his attraction to men. The Whitaker kids (Jake Lukas as David and Julianna Rigoglioso as Janice), add a rare catchy touch with their "Table Talk" numbers.

But while Frankel and Korie's Grey Gardens wasn't a traditional musical either with its source a documentary popular in art houses, it did have a pleasantly melodic score and a breakout show-stopper, "The Revolutionary Costume for Today." Far From Heavens is basically more opera than musical tracing its musical lineage even further back than the above mentioned "new" musicals, to what Leonard Bernstein called his "l'il opera", Trouble in Tahiti which also revolved around a doomed to fail 1950s marriage.

As for the difficulties of recreating the source material's cinematic ambience on stage and also making it sing, Greif and his creative team have done their utmost to bring a filmic sensibility to the stage. Kenneth Posner's dark and sun dappled lighting nicely evokes the shift in mood and time of year. Catherine Zuber's costumes are period perfect, though it's unlikely that even always perfectly groomed wives like Cathy wore all those petticoats when doing household things requiring aprons. The for orchestra only musical interludes powerfully ratchet up the the secret passions lurking beneath the picture perfect but emotionally icy climate of an era much as the Elmer Bernstein score did in the movie.

Risky as a move to Broadway always is, particularly for a musical without a ready tourist fan base, Far From Heaven clearly has Broadway ambitions. And while the set could easily expand to comfortably fit a larger venue, the big IF is whether there will be enough of an audience to fill a thousand or more seats for a healthy run — at least not without some more worikshopping to make it look more appealing and either smarten up that "happy" housewives get together or get rid of it altogether.

Far From Heaven, Book by Richard Greenberg based on the 2002 Todd Haynes film
Music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie
Directed by Michael Greif
Cast: Kelli O'Hara (Cathy Whitaker), Steven Pasquale (Frank Whitaker), JB Adams (Dr. Bowman/Morris Farnsworth), Nancy Anderson (Eleanor Fine), Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Sybil), Isaiah Johnson (Raymond Deagan), Sarah Jane Shanks (Doreen/Connie), Alma Cuervo (Mona Lauder), Tess Soltau (Nancy), Elainey Bass (Sarah Deagan), James Moye (Stan Fine), Marinda Anderson (Esther), Juliana Rigoglioso (Janice Whitaker), Jake Lucas (David Whitaker),Korey Jackson (Gus), Mary Stout (Mrs. Leacock), Victor Wallace (Dick Dawson).Justin Scott Brown (Photographer)
Sets: Allen Moyer
Costumes: Catherine Zuber
Lights: Kenneth Posner
Sound: Nevin Steinberg
Projections: Peter Nigrini
Wigs & Hair Design: David Brian Brown
Music Director: Lawrence Yurman
Orchestrations: Bruce Coughlin
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours including one 15-minute intermission
From 5/18/13; opening 6/02/13; closing 7/07/13 Playwrights Horizon Main Stage,416 West 42nd Street
Production Stage Manager: Judith Schoenfeld.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7PM, Thursdays and Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 2:30 PM & 8PM and Sundays at 2:30 PM & 7:30 PM.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer June 1st press matinee
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Seasons/Instrumental
  • Atumn in Connecticut/Cathy, Sybil, David, Janice, Eleanor, Neighborhood Ladies
  • You Like?/Eleanor, Cathy
  • Once Upon a Time/ Janice, Cathy
  • If It Hadn't Been/ Frank, Cathy
  • Table Talk/ Cavid, Janice, Sybil, Frank, Cathy
  • Mrs. Magnatech/Mrs. Leacock
  • Office Talk/Frank, Connie, Stan
  • Once a Week/Nancy, Doreen, Eleanor, Cathy
  • Sun and Shade/Raymond, Cathy
  • Table Talk/David, Sybil, Janice, Cathy
  • Secrets/Frank, Cathy
  • If It Hadn't Been (Reprise)/Frank
  • Interesting/Gallery Patrons, Mona Lauder, Morris Farnsworth
  • Miro/Raymond, Cathy
  • Once a Year/Party Guests, Frank, Cathy
  • Cathy, I'm Your Friend/ Eleaonor, Cathy
  • The Only One/Cathy, Raymond
Act Two
  • Rumors/Mona Lauder, Ladies
  • The Only One (Reprise)/Raymond, Cathy
  • Table Talk/David, Janice, Frank,Cathy
  • The Feminine Touch/Jackie, Fran
  • Wandering Eyes/Latin Singer
  • Table Talk/Janice, David, Cathy, Frank, Sybil
  • Rumores (Reprise)/Mona Lauder, Ladies
  • I Never Knew/Frank
  • Cathy, I'm Your Friend (Reprise)/Eleanor, Cathy
  • A Picture in Your Mind/Raymond, Cathy
  • Tuesdays, Thrsdays/Cathy
  • Table Talk/ David, Janice
  • Finale-- Autumn in Connecticut/Cathy
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