Sunday, February 24, 2013


John Doyle is where Sondheim musicals go to die. His Sweeney Todd, with its instrument-playing cast, fractured staging, and missing throat-slittings, wasn't Sweeney Todd, and his Company, with its instrument-playing cast, was cold, awkward and altogether too fond of characters marching around and around like target ducks in a shooting gallery. Now he has been given the opportunity to ruin Passion, and he has run with it.

[plot spoilers] Start with the cast. Judy Kuhn was theoretically an excellent choice--she was a brilliant Fosca in Washington, DC, in 2002 during the magical Sondheim celebration at the Kennedy Center. However, Doyle has directed her to a strong, sane, robust performance--three adjectives that absolutely do not describe Fosca. Ryan Silverman is a bland Georgio with a bland soap-opera-handsome face and a nice but bland voice. I can't imagine anyone waiting for him half an hour, let alone sacrificing her life for him. Melissa Errico is an equally bland Carla. (The one good thing about the miscasting and misdirection is that they ironically clarify Georgio's often puzzling choice of Fosca over Clara. This Fosca is more interesting and attractive in every way.)

Doyle's physical staging of Passion is flat-out annoying. For example, in perhaps the most significant scene in the show, when Fosca realizes that Georgio actually loves her, Fosca is placed so that an appreciable chunk of the audience cannot see her face. Granted, the CSC stage is a difficult one, but Doyle emphasizes the problematic sight lines as though he is taking the word "blocking" literally.

Another weird choice is to have men play two female roles ("Mother" and "Mistress"), denying the audience a variety of voice types and giving an important scene an unhelpful air of burlesque (and cheating an actress or two of a chance to work). If indeed it is necessary to keep the cast lean, why not have a woman/women play a man/men?

Oh, also: the costumes were unattractive and badly cut; the scenery was ugly and noisy.

I believe that, just as you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, you shouldn't judge a show by its poster. Now that I have seen Passion, however, I wish I had taken its tone-deaf, inappropriate poster as a warning. 

(CSC membership, seat B3, where I really should have been able to see more of what was going on! Preview.)


Alan B said...

"John Doyle is where Sondheim musicals go to die."

Nice of you to let us know upfront that the rest of your review isn't worth reading because of this absurdly biased statement.

Fortunately your opinion doesn't reflect the general consensus among professional critics, nor the audience ticket sales his shows engender.

Wendy Caster said...

Alan B--Thanks for taking the time to comment.

I have to disagree with the word "biased," though. I have seen four of Doyle's shows and have developed an opinion in response. And even though I didn't like the first three, I gave the fourth a chance. Is that more biased than refusing to read a review based on its first line? (I like to think that, within the review, I actually make my case for disliking Doyle's work on Passion.)

I don't mean this snottily. I really appreciate that you commented. Wendy

Wendy Caster said...

PS. This is not the first time and probably not the last that I disagree with a general consensus. It's irrelevant to me, really.

PPS. Re: "Nor the audience ticket sales his shows engender." Do his shows do all that well financially?