A CurtainUp Review
To the extent that the days when the appeal and success of an American musical was primarily measured by its number of hit tunes, there have been relatively few musicals since the post "golden age that are credited with actually redefining what an originally composed American musical could/would be. Of those composers most responsible for revitalizing this genre, Stephen Sondheim is at the top, reaching perhaps close to his peak of musical audacity with Passion, which was duly recognized with the 1994 Tony Award for Best New Musical.
The current revival is the first major one in almost twenty years. It's, been given a stunning production at the Classic Stage Company, where it has the distinction of being the first musical ever produced by this esteemed company now celebrating its 45th anniversary.
Considering the public's originally tempered response to it on Broadway, it remains to be seen whether the level of sensitivity and invention afforded it by director Doyle (best known for his revivals of Sweeney Todd and Company ), the degree of intelligence that prevails in the concise book by James Lapine (based on Igino Tarchetti's little known 1869 novel Fosca) and the emotionally compacted range of the score is enough to attract more than Sondheim's fans this time around.
This beautifully conceived staging includes the gracefully varied placement of straight-back chairs as moved about by members of the company. It also highlights nine splendid musicians perched high above the stage right and udder the direction of Rob Berman.
I would hope that Sondheim, who was initially attracted to the story from the 1981 film version of the novel (Passione d'amore) feels well served by all the members of this by-passion-propelled company. Aside from the almost constant stream of voluptuous and seductively sung music, all the sexy, contentious, and earthy aspects that also drive Passion are in the hands of singing actors who can mine the gold they have been given.
Much of this meticulously crafted musical is structured around the sending and receiving of a series of love letters. The story revolves around, a handsome young army captain who, though smitten with his beautiful, but married mistress, falls prey to the relentless passions of an extremely homely and sickly woman.
Of course, Judy Kuhn is far from homely but she is terrifyingly gaunt even slightly vampiric as Fosca. Melissa Errico is radiant and tantalizing as the mistress. Caught between in the cross-fire of their love is Ryan Silverman who impressively transits the changing aspects of his affections as they arise in Milan and in a remote frontier post.
Aside from looking like the shadow of death, it is Kuhn's intensely focused gaze as she follows Fosca's singular desire that is most gripping in her portrayal. Kuhn, who previously sang the role in 2002 as part of the Kennedy Center's Sondheim celebration, has said recently that she wants "to come to this completely new." New or old, it's a powerful portrait of a woman driven by her obsessive-compulsive needs. One note of disapproval is her short haircut. It doesn't seem quite right for the era, especially as Sondheim in an interview remarked on the custom of the time for women to have a lock of their hair cut off and sent to their lover when they died.
Speaking of hair, there is none more glorious than what crowns and ripples about Errico's lovely face. However it's hardly a distraction from her impassioned performance as the lonely Clara who slowly loses her grasp on her increasingly conflicted lover. Silverman, who has starred as Raoul (who hasn't?) in Phantom of the Opera uses his fine singing and dramatic gifts to contribute significantly to our total belief in this tragic romantic triangle.
To pause for a silly digression: With Giorgio caressing Clara and declaring again and again "You are too beautiful," I half expected him to begin the more familiar song with that title by Rodgers and Hart. Nevertheless, he looks quite spiffy, as do all the men in the cast, in the handsome black and red accented 19th century regiment uniforms designed by Ann Hould-Ward.
The clever staging makes good use of the regiment within their remote Italian garrison as they are used to both frame the action and serve as an integral part of the plot. Among this altogether fine detachment, Stephen Bogardus is outstanding as the calculating Colonel Ricci, as is Tom Nelis as the well-intentioned Doctor Tambourri.
You may have to remind yourself to breathe now and again over the course of this musical's one hundred minutes as you become captive to the conflicting emotions of the three sensual people caught in a vortex of their emotions. You may also wonder where to place Passion in the Sondheim canon — after Sweeney Todd but before Company, somewhere between Follies and A Little Night Music, or to just wishfully project perhaps Sondheim sharing his thoughts on his next project, "You're Going to Love Tomorrow."
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free
Anything Goes Cast Recording
Our review of the show
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show