Monday, April 30, 2007

Meet John Doe

photo: T. Charles Erickson

I liked the musical version of Frank Capra's Meet John Doe - currently playing Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. - more than most of the musicals that opened on Broadway this year. Endearingly square and loyal to the spirit (if not the letter) of the 1941 film, the musical Depression-era drama has been crafted with integrity and solid storytelling skill; as long as you can buy the melodramatic conventions of the source material, and you don't object (if you've seen the film) to the simplifications of Capra's themes about political corruption and capitalism, the show is a double pleasure - an intimate romantic musical framed by overarching social comment, and a love letter to the morally uncomplicated, high-style cinema of yesteryear. As an ambitious fast-talking gal reporter who fabricates a phoney suicide note for her column, Heidi Blickenstaff is vibrant, exciting, immediate. Despite the title, it's her show (the musical's one major, fixable weakness is that it takes too long to define the other main character, John Doe) and she soars with it: this is a perfect match of performer to role, a genuine star performance.

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