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A CurtainUp BerkshireReview
Les Liasons Dangereuses put the name of an army officer named Choderlos de Laclos on the literary map. Since its publication in 1782, the story of two aristocrats whose nasty games of sexual intrigue during the reign of King Louis XIV has been kept alive with stage and screen adaptations. In the latter category the film starring Glenn Close as the bored and manipulative Marquise de Merteuil and John Malkovitch as a smarmier than smarmy Vicomte de Valmont.
Now that Julianne Boyd's three-year-long effort to stage a musical adaptation by Megan Cavallari, Amy Powers and David Topchikhas been brought to fruition with a handsome and well-cast production at Barrington Stage. My first reaction is a question: Why hasn't someone musicalized and lightened up this story before? The operatic tale with its pomp, pageantry and epistolary elements literally begs for songs and, if not high-stepping dances, balletic movement.
Ms. Boyd has brought her very considerable skills as a director of musicals to bear on this, her first world premiere. The show, aptly renamed The Game, which is also the title of its catchy theme song, is small when compared to Broadway musicals. However, the twelve-member cast, handsome scenic design and lavish seventeenth century costumes represent a major endeavor for Barrington Stage which is undoubtedly, and not unrealistically, banking on the show having a life (probably in other regional theaters) after it closes.
Since The Game has more strengths than weaknesses, let me get the quibbles over and done with. Though the score is refreshingly melodic and features some rousing tunes, it lacks an anthem that you'll be humming in the shower. The reach for Sondheimian sophistication succeeds sometimes but at times comes closer to poperas like The Scarlet Pimpernel -- but then that's not such a bad thing considering Pimpernel's considerable success on Broadway and on the road. At almost three hours, the repetitious aspects of the music, especially during the second act, tend to loom larger than they would with a bit of judicious trimming.
That takes me to what makes The Game a highlight of Barrington Stage's hit parade of a season:
As I've already indicated, the popular story works beautifully as a musical. The excellent small band enhances the songs without drowning out the lyrics. The on-stage pit first used in the company's earlier in the season revival of Funny Girl seems to have resolved past acoustical problems and allows the voices to be heard with minimal amplification (miking devices happily, well hidden from the audience's view).
Michael Anania has created a handsome scenic design which is superbly lit by Jeff Croiter. Fabio Toblini's costumes are lush, colorful and true to the period. Some of the big production numbers like "The Opera" and "Just Past Midnight" are knockouts.
Of course, a musical is only as good as those speaking the dialogue and singing the tunes. Not to worry. Sara Ramirez and Christopher Innvar, both of whom are Broadway musical veterans, make a terrific pair of mischief-making aristocrats. Ramirez, who bears a strong resemblance to Linda Darnell, one of the queens of black and white films, has a rich, smoky musical theater voice. It comes to the full fore in "Wanting Her More " and "Victory Is Mine", her final duet with Valmont. Innvar, besides bringing a clear and pleasing tenor and dark good looks to the role of the Vicomte deValmont, is a strong enough actor to make his disillusionment with the malevolent Marquise de Merteuil credible and sympathetic.
Cristen Boyle brings a charming comic flair to the role of the ingenue, Cecile, who falls in love with her music teacher the Chevalier Danceny (a strong-voiced Greg Mills). The musical's older, but not always wiser women -- Griffin Gardner as Cecile's Mama and Joy Franz as Madame de Rosemonde -- also make solid impressions.
As someone who has a penchant for epistolary story telling, I very much liked the show's quill and pen scenes. The segues from writing-out-loud to song are smoothly staged and help to move the plot forward.
Launching a new musical is a daunting challenge. Bravo, Julianne Boyd for daring to do what others only dream about doing.
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