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A CurtainUp Review
The Wrong Man
By Elyse Sommer
With Kail's and Lacamoire's continued involvement, — the former as director and the latter in charge of arranging and orchestrating the music — it's easy to understand the buzz about this being another Hamilton. After all, like that juggernaut, The Wrong Man also tells its story with sung through rap lyrics. But despite the obvious links between these shows, The Wrong Man is not another Hamilton. Very different plot, staging and mood.
But while neither its story and lyrics are as clever, diverse and complex, or its staging as colorful as Hamilton, there's plenty that's right about The Wrong Man. In fact so much is right that I hardly know where to start.
To begin, the show is a treat for the ears. Golan's heavy on strings music is gorgeous and beautifully rendered by a small always on stage combo. And, while the book, also by Golan, does have three pivotal character, the half dozen ensemble members are co-stars who vitally contribute to the plot and choreography. And speaking of Emmy Award winning Travis Wall's choreogrphy, it too is integral to what's right about The Wrong Man. The dance numbers are stunningly executed and punctuate the singing and storytelling throughout.
Despite being an ensemble piece, Joshua Henry as Duran, the title character, does indeed give The Wrong Man genuine star power. On stage for most of the 90 minutes he once again proves himself as one of the musical theater's powerhouse performers — especially in musicals with somber plots. He most recently nabbed a Tony for his portrayal of the ill-fated Billy Bigelow in Rodger and Hammerstein's Carousel. He also played another memorable wrongly arrested and convicted character in The Scottsbor Boys by Kander and Ebb, a pair of musical collaborators who knew how to make really dark stories light up the stage.
Unlike Hamilton, Carousel and The Scottsboro Boys, Golan's song-cycle-cum-musical's unrelieved darkness makes it a true opera; though given its short run time, a mini-opera. Even the music has a beat that echoes the tragedy of a man's shattered hopes and dreams. However, even operas feature elaborate sets and costumes, so the reliance here on the singing and dancing is likely to be a problem for the show's future life.
If rumors of a move to Broadway are to materialize (both Hamilton and The Scottsboro Boys premiered off-Broadway) , some work is needed to insure that the plot details and clarifying lyrics are never confusing or hard to hear as they now occasionally are. Not that it's all that complicated a story.
Golan's book begins with a Prologue in which Duran is in the present reflecting on how he came to find himself facing execution and wondering whether his story could actually have happened and engage the audience ("What If I''m based on an untrue story/ With no future In front/ And no his'ry before me / are the people here to hear me or here to ignore me / am i a human being or am i here performing? ").
Subsequent scenes recap Duran's childhood, early adult life and first romantic relationship. We learn that he got away from a home where an abusive father beat his mother "like a pinata, managed to work his way into a middle management job with a faked diploma . He sings about the heartbreak of his first relationship which nevertheless leaves him yearning for another ( "Sees Me for Me" and " How Do You Get Over a Broken Heart?"). "
The woman who does see Duran for himself is another lost soul named Marisna (the terrific Cierra Renée) . Their coming together is illustrated with a sizzling sex scene and song ("Take off Your Clothes") and a tender morning after one ("Take It Slow"). But it also begins the operatic denouement.
It turns out that Mariana's ex-husband, an ex-con out on parole, is the viilain of the piece. He's identified only as Man In Black (an aptly sinister Ryan Vasquez). Because Mariana helped the police put him in jail has left him determined to make her payl. Thus, Duran's wrongful incarceration is causedd by a trulfy bad guy willing to entangle an innocent man in his act of vengeance as well as a justice system that tends to find it easier to not believe a black man's story.
The structure effectively combines instrumental , choreoraphed and sung renditions of the increasingly dark plot developments. Kander and Ebb did manage to imbue their equally dark Scottsboro Boys with some bright and jazzy scenes. Therefore, even though The Wrong Man is relentlessly downbeat, this latest addition to musicals that embrace ultra-somber themes is perhaps best summed up by John Kander's comment on this subject: "Music does things sometimes that words cannot do, and musical theater can do things that strict drama cannot do, which gives it a real capacity to understand and portray human suffering."
Consumer Note: There are some performances when Ryan Vasquez assumes to role of Duran. If Joshua Henry is your main reason for buying a ticket, make sure the performance you plan on attending is with him.
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The Wrong Man
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Ross Golan
Directed by Thomas Kail
Choreographed by Travis Wall
Cast: Joshua Henry (Duran), Ciara Renée(Mariana), Ryan Vasquez (Man in Black)
Anoop Desai, Tilly Evans-Krueger , Libby Lloyd, Amber Pickens, Kyle Robinson, Debbie Christine Tjong, Julius Williams (Ensemble)
Scenic design by Rachel Hauck
Costume design by Jennifer Moeller and Kristin Isola
Lighting design by Betsy Adams
Sound design by Nevin Steinberg
Hair and make-up design by Tommy Kurzman
Music direction by Taylor Peckham
Stage Manager: Jason Pacella
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission
Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater's Newman Mills Theater 511 W. 52nd Street
From 9/18/19; opening 10/09/19; closing 11/17/19
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at October 5th press preview
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