Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
December 16, 2011
I’m dreaming of a beige Christmas. Bland is the color of “Some Lovers,” the new Burt Bacharach/Steven Sater musical premiering at the Old Globe.
Both creators kept insisting that it was not a Christmas show, and it wasn’t a re-thinking of the classic O. Henry story, “The Gift of the Magi.” But that was a disingenuous denial. Just about every scene is set on Christmas Eve. And the Magi story courses through the long, 90-minute musical.
The plot is flat and predictable. Ben and Molly had a relationship 20 years ago, when they were bright-eyed, idealistic 20-somethings. They went through some trials, mostly based around Ben’s obsession with his art, which is, coincidentally, songwriting. His passion and preoccupation took precedence over everything else in his life, especially Molly. Perhaps there’s a whiff of autobiography here, but no one’s saying.
Over time, the couple disbands and they’ve become disillusioned and embittered. Now, one lonely Christmas eve, they reconnect to read to each other from O. Henry, as they used to do — and as they do to excess onstage. Mostly, they share their mutual regrets and revisit their more interesting younger selves.
Under the direction of Will Frears , this chamber piece is static, unless the four game actors – Jason Danieley , Michelle Duffy, Andrew Meuller and Jenni Barber — are gliding repetitively around the circular stage, confronting and avoiding each other in the time-warp. They reminisce, they upbraid each other. They consider their compromises and sacrifices, and we make the connection to ‘The Gift of the Magi.’
In the past, Molly gave up her inheritance and her financial stability to buy Ben a Steinway piano. Now she has to give up her apartment. And so, Ben sells the piano to help her stay put.
Along the way, they sing solos, duets and quartets, about their dreams and disappointments. The harmonies are pleasant, and the vocal quality is high.
But just about every song is a love ballad – either sweet , sorrowful or maudlin. And they all sound pretty much the same. Steven Sater , who wrote such stunning, poetic and unpredictable lyrics for the Tony Award-winning “Spring Awakening,” seems hamstrung here, trapped in melancholia and romantic cliché. Very little of his edgy, dazzling lyricism on display.
It’s certainly commendable that Bacharach, at age 83, is still able to create complex music. But the songs sound exactly like his ‘70s hits. Similar orchestrations and arrangements, too. The singers are forced to vocalize in that decidedly ‘70s style. It’s more cabaret than Broadway, but not varied or compelling enough for either.
And alas, there’s no palpable lust or desire; when the bed repeatedly elevates from below, it’s never used for anything interesting. The 8-piece orchestra, also down below, sounds wonderful, though, with its Bacharachian horns.
All told, this new chamber musical leaves you with one burning question: Do you know the way to San José?
The world premiere of “Some Lovers” runs through December 31 at The Old Globe.
©2011 PAT LAUNER