Sunday, May 10, 2015

Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago closes today after just 49 performances (including previews) ... and that's a shame. Because even though it mostly deserves the mixed to negative reviews it received, the show has its merits, including some stellar performances and musical numbers. It didn't get any Tony nominations, but Tam Mutu as Yurii Zhivago was nominated for a Drama League Award for Distinguished Performance and Paul Alexander Nolan as Pasha Antipov/Strelnikov got an Outer Critics Circle nomination for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical.

Two well-deserved nods since both gave rich performances at the show I saw on Thursday night, especially Mutu, known for roles in the West End productions Les Miserables and City of Angels and who made his Broadway debut in the show. As Dr. Zhivago, a poet/doctor, he convincingly shows the conflict he feels for loving Lara Guishar (Kelli Barrett) while married to childhood sweetheart and mother of his son, Tonia (Lora Lee Gayer).

The show, based after the 1958 Boris Pasternak novel, offers lovely ballads--although a few more upbeat numbers would enliven the show more--from composer Lucy Simon (The Secret Garden) and lyricists Michael Korie (Grey Gardens) and Amy Powers (Lizzie Borden). The book is written by Michael Weller (Moonchildren, Loose Ends). "Watch the Moon," a romantic duet between Yurii and Tonia, before he leaves for war, and "Love Finds You," a summary of the mismatched loves of the major characters beautifully describe the power and despair that love offers. The one truly upbeat piece, "It's a Godsend," is a fun send-off piece that features the traditional Russian squat dancing.

Still, the show's bulky source material trimmed down often leaves plot holes (SPOILER ALERT HERE: What exactly happens after Lara escapes? How does Pasha go from earnest school boy to ruthless dictator? Why does everyone love Lara so fiercely when her character is written mostly as a milquetoast?) Plus, is the CSI-style depiction of war, with its bloody wounds and loud pepper of gunfire, necessary?  Perhaps Director Des McAnuff wants to show the brutality of war, but what is most evocative of the despair such battles render is seen in the quieter moments of the musical--when the displaced people show their sorrow and bewilderment over everything they've lost.

Perhaps the show will get a second chance in touring productions. Producer Anita Waxman offered such possibilities in a statement, saying such: "We look forward to this soaring and beautiful new musical having a long future with productions playing not only North America, but also around the world." 

(Press tickets, front mezzanine)

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