BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Review
Time and Again
Seeing this show over a week after the major newspapers' critics clocked in I couldn't help hoping that I'd find myself in total disagreement with their generally negative appraisals. But at the risk of having my nose grow like Pinochio, truth must prevail and the truth of the matter is, that Jack Finney's time traveling novel will be read long after this adaptation will be a blip in musical history.
That's not to say it doesn't have some very strong features, notably its three leading ladies. Laura Benanti, Lauren Ward and Julia Murney are amongst the musical theater's brightest young musical super stars in the making. Having these lovely and talented young performers as close as if they were in your own living room and hearing them sing without benefit of the usual miking is a treat that compensates for the show's otherwise considerable shortcomings.
So what's wrong? For starters, The science elements and dour indications of government projects have gotten lost in the condensation needed to accommodate music and lyrics. Jack Viertel's book isn't bad, but the pragmatic principle of "then is just another now" that is a leitmotif of sorts fails to captures the magic and excitement of a time travelling adventure. The rich details of Finney's novel now feel like a plot outline and the whole story seems to have wandered into the wrong genre. The dramatic launch of Si Morley's adventure from the Dakota apartment house and Si's escape back to the Dakota of today with his lady love from Gramercy Park beg for the action shots and special effects of a film. Robert Redford apparently once planned to direct and star in a film version though no such film has ever materialized so perhaps this is one of those books that defies any adaptation.
What about the music? Since Manhattan Theatre Club has chosen to squeeze the show into its small second stage, music and lyrics have to make do with two pianos. This might be fine if Walter Edgar Kennon didn't have the sort of a Euro-poperatic sensibility that calls for more varied instruments. Kennon's music resonates pleasurably enough and several numbers that are real hits: The title song by Laura Benanti and her leading man, Lewis Cleale (he has a leading man's good looks but is not on a vocal par with Benanti). . . a lovely duet between Benanti and Julia Murney, "Who Are You?" . . . a catchy rag-like "The Marrying Kind" by Lauren Ward and the ensemble. Except for "The Marrying Kind" none of these numbers, are particularly evocative of the time period.
Among the supporting players Christopher Innvar is miscast as as the villain and Benanti's would-be husband. David McCallum bravely soldiers through his double roles as Dr. Danziger and Lauren Ward's dad. Several times he even sings (no, he's not very good, but he deserves a medal for daring to do it).
Director Susan H. Schulman, a usually capable director, has done little to help the show seem like something more than a romance which happens to be played out in two different time frames. A brief ballet at the beginning of act two, while pretty, is intrusive -- and so is the constant movement of furniture by the actors. I should add that the props themselves are a credit to Derek McLane's design work, though his projections could be a little more dynamic and colorful. Catherine Zuber's spectacularly beautiful costumes add a lush touch to the otherwise modest staging.
To sum up, Time and Again isn't wonderful enough to see time and time again, but neither is it tastelessly bad like some musicals I could name. This limited run at MTC is likely to be the final stop of five year journey (including a production at California's Old Globe, with orchestra). If you're interested in musical theater, you'll want to see it while you can, if only to see why and how this show that attracted so much talent proved to be considerably less than the sum of its parts.