Oscar Hammerstein II was one of the geniuses behind the creation of American musical theatre. Besides such wonderful songs as "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "Some Enchanted Evening," "My Favorite Things" and "You'll Never Walk Alone," he left behind commentary on the inspiration for some of our greatest musicals from the Golden Age of Broadway. So why in the world would anyone who wanted to develop a theatrical work about the man and his music decide to use a 3D hologram to represent him instead of a dynamic actor?
That's what you get in Sincerely, Oscar at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row. Doreen Taylor wrote the book for the 90-minute show and was the one who envisioned turning Hammerstein into what looks like a creepy ghost onstage. Even the nearly 30 songs performed by Taylor and Azudi Onyejekwe can't save this ill-conceived work.
The hologram -- I refuse to call him Hammerstein -- has a voice recorded by Bob Meenan. What should have been interesting storytelling is lost in the just plain weird concept of this artificial creature sitting at a desk with a recorded voice telling his tale.
Director Dugg McDonough didn't seem to know what to with all of this. He is not helped by Jason Simms unimaginative set, which is just several platforms that the singers climb as they sing. The performers look really uncomfortable trying to bring some life into this bland setting.
The color in the production comes from the cartoonish projections by Brittany Merenda that accompany the songs. These feature words like Fringe for that famous song or hearts and lips for "Make Believe." They look ridiculous.
Taylor's "inspiration" for this show followed a benefit concert she was involved with several years ago for the Oscar Hammerstein Museum & Theater Education Center. After working with all those beautiful songs, she thought it would be great to put the writer himself onstage to talk about them. Nice idea. She couldn't have the man himself, of course, but why did she think a hologram of him would be entertaining theatre?
Adding to the feeling that we were in a theatrical disaster was the fact that the microphones kept malfunctioning, even though the show opened earlier this month following previews. About an hour into the performance they stopped working yet again and the entire stage went dark. No one appeared and no announcement was made about what to expect. It was at that point I turned to my friend to see how she was doing. She had a headache going into the show and was in misery by that point. We opted to sneak out, as did others. The theatre had many, many empty seat even before the show began. Word of mouth, probably, and, I'm sure, horrible reviews. (I don't read reviews before I writer mine but I can't imagine they would be favorable.)
A press release proclaimed that this show was introducing the first use of holographic technology Off-Broadway. It might have worked for an imaginary character, but for a flesh and blood master like Oscar Hammerstein, it is a sorry portrayal of a man who deserves so much better.