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Moscow, A Musical Play

by Rich See

Sisters are resilient, the sunset so brilliant...only we sisters will last.

Michael Fizdale as Luke and Dallas Miller as Matt
M. Fizdale and D. Miller
(Photo: Scott Henrichsen)
Revisiting the spirit of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters, Actors' Theatre of Washington (ATW) presents the DC premiere of the charming musical Moscow. Written and conceived by Nick Salamone with music by Maury R. McIntyre, Moscow takes three gay men and traps them in a theatre. How they got there, why they're there, and how they can get out are all a mystery. The only clue given to them is a Russian copy of Chekhov's classic play. As Jon, a playwright who happens to be fluent in Russian, translates the text for the other two, the three rehearse the play's scenes. Each man takes on the role of a sister and as the rehearsals progress, the inner aspects of each actor is revealed through the role he portrays. It's an interesting mix of Twilight Zone meets Chekhov meets musical theatre.

This, by the way, is part of the Actors' Theatre of Washington's outreach arm -- atwOUT! -- which nurtures and concentrates on new gay and lesbian works. Moscow is their first full-scale production of a piece and as such it is still a work in progress. While Salamone could tinker with the piece further, the play has something in it -- kind of like a diamond in the rough -- and the music, as well as the singing, is quite lovely. The songs are complex and lengthy arrangements that contain much of the character development. And while these may be a singer's dream, for the audience to maintain concentration, an intermission to regroup and refresh would be a good addition.

In his first solo role as director, Matty Griffiths shows a subtle hand of guiding his cast. The pacing of the show is leisurely and allows you to connect to the actors. Knowing Chekhov's work is not necessarily a requirement. While it might make connecting the allusions to Three Sisters more immediate, Moscow also stands on its own. There is a gentleness among the cast which is most appealing and the use of the theatrical space pulls the audience into the work. ATW is using the Clark Street Playhouse, so much of the set that is present is actually from a Tennessee Williams' production that is running simultaneously.

Musical Director Tom Liddle has developed a lush, complex sound from a small piano, violin, flute ensemble. The live music, inconspicuously placed behind a scrim, fills the cavernous Clark Street Playhouse's inherent acoustics.

As Jon the playwright, who takes on the role of Olga (the oldest sister), is Steve Lebens. He gives us a world weary gay man who has seen many lovers and friends pass away from AIDS. He imbues Jon with a wry sense of humor, who is afraid of loving, and even hoping, as he notes: "My salad days are over. Hell! My meat and potato days are over." Far from over, he eventually falls for Michael Fizdale's street-wise hustler Luke, not in a salacious way, but in a seemingly truly caring manner. Mr. Fizdale, for his part, is the voice of agitated impatience and the youngest sister Irina. Constantly demanding to know if the trio is alive or dead and why they are trapped in the abandoned theatre, he presents the young man's need to be loved and approved of in a compelling manner. As Matt, Dallas Miller is quite stirring when he talks about his family situation and the sexual abuse he endured for many years. Like the middle sister Masha, Matt is the glue who is holding the trio together. Mr. Miller does a great job as the pining and romantic man waiting for his prince charming to come along.

All in all, Moscow is an interesting work by a theatre dedicated to keeping gay and lesbian issues at the forefront of its mission. Definitely not your usual musical, it is at least one with a gay face that poses universal questions about love, loss, and redemption through courage. The performances are on off evenings, Sundays through Wednesdays, so it makes a great Monday night date. Additionally, Tuesday evening performances are followed by a question and answer session with the director and cast.

Moscow, A Musical Play
Lyrics and book by Nick Salamone
Music by Maury R. McIntyre
Directed by Matty Griffiths
with Steve Lebens, Dallas Miller, and Michael Fizdale
Musical Director: Tom Liddle
Set Design: Eric Grims
Costume Design: Melanie Clark
Lighting Design: Jason Arnold
Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes with no intermission
A production of Actors' Theatre of Washington
Clark Street Playhouse, 601 South Clark Street, Crystal City
Telephone: 800-494-8497
SUN - WED @7:30; $20
Opening 03/13/05, closing 04/06/05
Reviewed by Rich See based on 03/16/05 performance
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