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A CurtainUp Berkshire Feature
Far From Heaven

Far From Heave
Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale
(Photo:T. Charles Erickson)
It's been buzz... .buzz. . . for Williamstown's tryout run of the musical Far From Heaven. No wonder! The fascinating source: The 2002 film of the same name that A stellar cast is headed by Tony award winning Kelli O'Hara. . .a book by Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out), music and lyrics byScott Frankel and Michael Korie the team that successfully musicalized the documentary Grey Gardens, and direction by the Tony award winning director of Rent, Michael Greif.

To add the curiosity factor, despite the talent lavished on this show, there's the source material. The 2002 film of the same name, starring Julianne Moore was a cinematic tribute to Douglas Sirk with a sweeping more symphonic than musical theater background score by film composing legend Elmer Bernstein. It seemed too tied to the screen to translate into a contemporary musical. The documentary Grey Gardens also wasn't the sort of movie-to-musical material lending itself to a dancing and singing tuner, Frankel and Korie did manage to create a score rich with pastiche song and Sondheimian flair that carried the show from its debut at Playwrights Horizon to Broadway and a fistful of awards nominations and wins.

While Far From Heaven is already scheduled to move to Playwrights Horizon after its brief trial run at Williamstown's Main Stage and has obvious ambitions to follow Grey Gardens' path of taking the next leap to Broadway, the Williamstown production is still not frozen. Frozen, in case someone reading this isn't familiar with that show biz term, meaning that the director and his creatives are consider the staging, narrative and score firm and no longer subject to changes. Thus, while the house has been packed, the show is not open for review and I attended Sunday's matinee minus my critic's hat. I therefore can't comment on what about the show now now getting its bearings before a live, ticket buying audience could or should undergo further fine tuning.

This then is a prequel of what to expect, with the current production's cast and song list and some pictures of the key players most probably set to stay with the show in New York.

What you shouldn't expect is the Kelli O'Hara of the long playing Lincoln Center revival of South Pacific that made her something of the present century's f Mary Martin, or of <Nice Work If You Can Get It , from which she took a leave to come to Williamstown. This is Kelli more shades of The Light In The Piazza that is part of the new musicals built around serious stories and music that soars more operatically than with immediate hummability. But whether she's singing a song that's more an area than catchy show tune, Kelli's soprano is gorgeous.
Far From Heaven
Brandon Victor Dixon
(Photo:T. Charles Erickson)
With her pale blonde hair more of a strawberry blonde, fans of the movie will be better able to see how O'Hara's songs internalize the pain of the Connecticut wife and mother trapped in the uptight world of the 1950s. With more than two dozen songs O'Hara isn't the only one to give Frankel and Korie's music a chance to fill in the plot that drives the musical as it did the film with ballads, duets and ensemble numbers. With a little bit of luck, at least the key players will be available to stay with the show — like Steven Pasquale as Cathy Whitaker's sexually conflicted husband Frank, Nancy Anderson as best friend Eleanor Fine and most of all, Brandon Victor Dixon as Raymond Deagan, the African-American gardener with whom she forms a bond that's bound to be as much a bombshell to her marriage and social standing in Hartford, circa 1957.

What you can expect is an emphasis on feelings rathr than funny stuff, choreography in the form of movement than foot-tapping dance numbers. You can also count on seeing signs of Michael Greif's penchant for multi-tiered scaffolding, here translated into a staircase for the Whitaker's house and entry into Frank's office that works as a visual metaphor for the prison of narrow minded life styles. Finally, you can also expect to be amazed at the way projection designer Peter Nigrini captures the feeling of the film's stunning cinematography and the way lighting and sound designers Kenneth Posner and Nevin Steinberg ratchet up the dramatic impact of Kathy face to face with the reason her marriage has been so bereft of emotional and sexual warmth.

While Far From Heaven is in the same cigarette happy era of TV's popular Mad Men, except for Pasquale's Frank, don't count on seeing a lot of cigarette smoke. When Kathy's friends get together for their weekly bridge games, they drink, but there isn't a cigarette in sight. (Maybe next season's Mad Men will explore the civil rights era and burgeoning gay awareness with more depth than they have in the past -- one gay character early on in the series was fired and never heard from again and the only other departure from missionary style sex involved one character's sado-masochistic proclivities).

Seasoned Broadway theater goers won't be surprised that costumer Catherine Zuber has been charged with recreating the prim, proper and petticoated look of women like Cathy and the friends. In short, all th elements of a ready for prime time new musical are in place — but with my critic's hat left at home for my viewing, I'll only say, yes, there are some things I'd still diddle with. However, I'll refrain from being more specific until I see Far From Heaven next year in New York. I would add that this is the kind of musical that whether seen during previews or when firmly frozen, needs to be seen at least twice to be fully appreciated, just one more reason why it's too bad theater tickets are so expensive.

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), Brandon Victor Dixon (Raymond Deagan), Sarah Jane Everman (Doreen/Connie), Alison Fraser (Mona Lauder), Kate Hamilton (Nancy), Talia Hamilton (Sarah Deagan), Chris Hoch (Stan Fine), Crystal Lucas-Perry (Esther), Preston Martin (Blond Son), Alexa Niziak (Janice Whitaker), Charlie Plummer (David Whitaker), Michael Shaw (Gus), Mary Stout (Mrs. Leacock) and Tony Yazbeck (Dick Dawson).
Sets: Allen Moyer
Costumes: Catherine Zuber
Lights: Kenneth Posner
Sound: Nevin Steinberg
Projections: Peter Nigrini
Music Director: Lawrence Yurman
Orchestrations: Bruce Coughlin
Running Time: Approx. 2 1/2 hours including one 15-minute intermission
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Atumn in Connecticut/Cathy, Sybil, David, Janice
  • 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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