Thursday, November 03, 2005

See What I Wanna See

Last night I attended See What I Wanna See by Michael John LaChiusa. For those who follow theater he is one of the many composers battling it out for the "next big thing" title. Steven Sondheim, after all these years, still has no heir apparent and certainly no equal. LaChiusa has been prolific as newish composers go... but it's been hit and miss. His Broadway outing The Wild Party is a huge hit in my mind (in actuality it did flop) but his recent off-Broadway outing Little Fish was such a miss it was almost unwatchable. So I was very pleased that See... puts him firmly back in "hit" territory. This musical was originally titled R Shomon and like the Kurosawa film it name-checks, it's concerned with the mutable, subjective nature of truth and the impossibility of actually defining it.

See What I Wanna See is not without rough patches. After a terrific opening number, it almost goes off the rails completely (too histrionic too soon) but it soon recovers. And the second act, though powerful, could use some cutting and polishing. But this has gorgeous melodies and its a strong challenging musical. The piece plays as two one-acts but contrary to what will surely be a common critique, I think it's important that they stay fused together. It is decidedly not two separate musicals though the halves will strike many as too different in tone and subject to form a whole. The first act is a noirish tale of murder in Central Park. The second an exploration of faith after a tragedy hits. Strange bedfellows but thematically it works.

Idina Mental --excuse me Idina Menzel, is the biggest 'name' draw here after her stints in Rent (stage and film) and her Tony winning role in Wicked. I have to admit that she (finally) won me over. She has a difficult role in the show: an ever-shifting femme fatale in the first act and a coked-up actress in the second. I still think she didn't deserve her Tony award and I am still horribly jealous about the Taye Diggs thing, but from now on I will attempt to love her like everyone else. I may not be able to escape her anyway if her film career works out for her. Most of other performers are strong as well with Mary Testa taking top honors. She plays a psychic in the first act and a non-nonsense aunt in the second. She has two absolutely killer numbers that would win her the TONY instantly were the show to transfer to Broadway, both performed with remarkable vocal and acting control.

But back to the musical at hand. There are, as far as I can determine, four tracks for current musical theater:
A. Post-Sondheim Musical Drama (Pros: complicated, dramatic, intelligent, challenging musically. Cons: not easy to sing along to, not-for-everyone, sometimes more ambitious than well executed.)
B. Post-Webber Musical Drama (Pros: grand spectacles, instant pop-opera "hooks", safe-for-everyone. Cons: overstuffed, shallow, kinda dumb)
C. Musical/Comedy (Pros: Fun to watch, Dance-Happy, money-making, cute, safe for families, often based on something else thus easily marketable. Cons: instantly forgettable, never very original, often not-as-funny-as-it-thinks-it-is)
D: Revivals (Pros: often solid entertainments --hence the endurance, classic songs. Con: Take up lots of room while the artform dies without nurturing/rewarding fresh blood)

If you are in NYC and enjoy track A than I would highly recommend seeing See What I Wanna See in its limited run before it closes (early December). If you enjoy musical theater from afar they did just finish recording this for a CD release so that will hopefully be out soon.

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