Friday, November 9, 2007

The Glorious Ones

I just could not get into this show, at least not until the very end and then I thought, Oh, that was sweet. This is because it isn’t until the end that I could feel any emotional involvement with the characters. Up until then the emphasis had been on the slapstick performances of this 16th century comedy troupe. And that, actually, is another reason I wanted to leave early -- and would have if I had been on the aisle or there had been an intermission. I don’t like slapstick.

This is the first time I haven’t liked, or loved, a musical with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty. I am a huge fan of theirs. The morning after I saw “Ragtime” I bought the cast recording and have played it often through the years. I LOVED “A Man of No Importance” and gave it a rave in NCR, as I did “Dessa Rose.” I also liked “Seussical” and “Once on this Island.” While I still enjoyed most of Flaherty’s lyrical music in “Glorious,” Ahrens’ lyrics failed for the most part to reach me, except for “I Was Here” at the close, which finally provided the heart the story needed, reflecting as it does the ephemeral nature of an actor’s work and the artistic desire to leave something behind to be remembered by. “The Comedy of Love” upfront was cute and “Rise and Fall” is nice, but out of nearly two dozen songs, that’s not enough to sustain a musical.

The cast, headed by Marc Kudisch, holds no responsibility for my disappointment. They were excellent on both fronts -- lovely voices and skillful timing for all that low comedy.

It’s a shame that the characters weren’t more dimensional throughout, because the idea behind this musical should have appeal to anyone interested in show business. Based on the novel by Francine Prose, "The Glorious Ones" is a backstage musical about the lives, loves, ambitions, and art of the itinerant street performers in a commedia dell’arte troupe in Italy in the late Renaissance.   It tells how the troupe, which specialized in improvisation, came to
be and how it captured the public’s adoration, before scripted plays came into fashion and pushed out their form of entertainment.  Its seven archetypal characters are – the leading man (Kudisch), the harlequin (Jeremy Webb), the “dottore” (John Kassir), the miser (David Patrick Kelly), the leading lady (Natalie Venetia Belcon), the dwarf (Julyana Soelistyo), and the moon woman (Erin Davie).

In the final scene, the characters are looking down from heaven at 20th century comedians in films and on TV and recognize what they used to do and know that it lives on, and that was touching. I just wish it hadn’t taken 90 minutes -- and death -- for them to stop being stock characters and to become human.

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