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A CurtainUp Review
My Parsifal Conductor, A Wagnerian Comedy
By Elyse Sommer
Of course, what's funny to some theater goers isn't funny to others. And there have been times when a show that I thought unfunny and generally unworthy nevertheless had its share of those big time laughers.
There are also times when neither I or anyone else found anything to tickle our funny bones. Case in point: Allan Leicht's My Parsifal Conductor, subtitled a Wagnerian Comedy, now in its world premiere at the West Side Y's Marjorie S. Deane Little Theatre. Except for a few low key chuckles from a few women in back of me at the press preview I attended, that subtitle was apparently as much a misnomer for my fellow viewers as it was for me. Maybe Mr. Leicht's alternative take on historic records about the relationship between Richard Wagner, his wife Cosima and the Jewish conductor Hermann Levi, just doesn't lend itself to comedy.
Opera lovers continue to flock to Wagner productions, separating the work from its creator's unacceptable persona. But My Parsifal Conductor is a play with just occasional musical snippets, and the Wagners with their anti-Semitic reputations aren't characters too many people will want to spend time with. Of course, that's exactly why Mr. Leicht wrote My Parsifal Conductor.
According to an article in The Jewish News by Alice Burdick Schweiger, Leicht wrote the play to set the record straight about the Wagners' anti-Semitism. As an Orthodox Jew with Israeli as well as American citizenship, he wanted to point out that since Wagner actually got along with the Jews of his time, and that they liked and admired him, it was understandable that Israel's founding father, Theodore Herzl opened the 1998 Zionist Congress with a performance of Tannhauser.
Leicht's researched facts do indicate that My Parsifal Conductor could be interesting enough to offset a theater goer's resistance to a play with unlikable main characters. (Aside from any questions about their prejudices, neither Wagner or his wife had appealing personalities)
Unfortunately the way the story is structured, taking us back to the events preceding the premiere of Parsifal as a series of flashbacks and forwards to Cosima's death bed, comes off awkwardly. Under Robert Kaplan's direction the scenes intended to tap into that subtitle fail to hit their mark. While the actors do their best, they are only intermittently satisfying. Eddie Korbich, a musical theater performer I've always admired, seems miscast as the great composer.
Mr. Leicht is lucky to have an excellent crafts team. Harry Feiner who has designed many a handsome productions, has created a setting to accommodate all the action. That includes a space under Cosima's four-poster bed for Edgar James Hall's Friedrich Nietzsche to make his madcap, pop-up appearances; and a cartouche on top to underscore Cosima's devoutness.
Since King Ludwig of Bavaria plays a major role — it's at his insistence that Hermann Levi's conducts Parsifal, despite the Wagners' objecting to a Jew helming this very Christian work— Feiner has also made a large portrait of the king work as a door that opens to replace the painted king with Carlo Bosticco's Ludwig. Clever as that versatile bed and the rotating portrait are, the over use of both diminishes their impact.
Costume designer Gail Cooper Hecht also does excellent work, especially for Claire Brownell's Cosima. The first time she gets in and out of her magnificent night dress to play one of the flashbacks is quite breathtaking. But the impact is again lost by the repetitive staging of the frequent costume switches
For all my quibbles, it's true that anti-Semitism, especially on the part of great artists, is irrational. Maybe if audiences leave the theater discussing how to avoid and deal with prejudice in any form, their time spent with the Wagners was worthwhile in spite of the play's shortcomings.
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My Parsifal Conductor,A Wagnerian Comedy by Allan Leicht
Directed by Robert Kalfin
. Cast: Eddie Korbich as Wagner, Claire Brownwell as Cosima, Geoffrey Cantor as Levi, Carlo Bosticco as Ludwig, Logan James Hall as Nietzsche, Alison Cimmet as Dora and Jazmin Gorsline as Carrie/Sophie.
Set design by Harry Feiner
Costume design by Gail Cooper-Hecht
Lighting design by Paul Hudson
Sound design by Andy Evan Cohen
Projection design by David Tite/Bravo Media
Hair and wig design: Leah J. Lucas
Stage Manager: Arthur Atkinson
Running Time: 2 hours including 1 intermission
Directors Company at at the Marjorie S. Deane Theater at West Side YMCA 5 W. 63rd St
From 9/25/18; opening 10/11/18; closing 11/03/18. Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30PM; Friday-Saturday at 8PM; Matinees on Saturday at 2PM and Sunday at 3PM.
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