Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
October 11, 2013
Well, you can’t win ‘ em all. The Old Globe just opened a world premiere and a new musical. One’s a so-so drama that needs more work; the other is a rockin ’ knockout that has Broadway scrawled all over it.
“The Last Goodbye” is gonna be one big fat hit, conceived and adapted by Michael Kimmel, marrying the intense, passionate music of rock icon Jeff Buckley with Shakespeare’s great romantic tragedy, “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s a match made in musical-theater heaven, all hot tempers and hot love.
Buckley died in 1997, at age 30, but the poetry of his songs of longing and loss dovetails remarkably well with Shakespearean emotions and Elizabethan verse.
The new production is robustly directed by the endlessly inventive Alex Timbers, and choreographed with macho panache by Sonya Tayeh .
The glorious setting of stone arches conveys a man’s world, filled with leather-clad, knife-and-cleaver-wielding street toughs who spew poetic anger, grab their crotches and sing their lungs out while dueling to the death, in spectacular fight choreography.
Amid this testosterone-fueled adrenaline is the lovely, high-spirited Juliet, magnificently portrayed by Talisa Friedman, who soars in several gut-wrenching ballads. As Romeo, Jay Armstrong Johnson has palpable chemistry with his “star- cross’d ” love.
The musical arrangements are outstanding, but no one fares well in the falsetto range. Still, the singing is superb, and the killer band rocks the house. Much of the original text is cut, maintaining and clarifying the plot points, but losing some vital character development. The eye-popping visuals reflect the dazzling lighting, sound and costume design.
Jeff Buckley’s most famous recording forms the finale, and it’s the best and most memorable song in the show. “Hallelujah,” written by Leonard Cohen, creates the ideal elegiac ending. A riotous ovation ensued on opening night. I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Meanwhile, next door in the White Theatre, there’s a lot of uncomfortable silence. “The Few” takes its name from an Idaho newsletter for truckers, founded by Brian as a gathering-place for peripatetic people. After he abandoned the paper – and his co-worker/girlfriend, QZ – she changed the focus to personal ads, which we hear called in (by actual San Diegans) to the exquisitely cluttered office. When Brian returns unexpectedly, a broken man filled with regret, he has to contend with QZ’s wrath and young Matthew’s adulation, haltingly revealed in a stellar performance by Gideon Glick.
Under the direction of Davis McCallum, the acting trio is excellent, but the play is unsatisfying. The stakes are too low, and there isn’t much to make us care. Quite a change from Samuel D. Hunter’s heart-rending, award-winning previous play, “The Whale.” “The Few” is less nuanced and frankly, less interesting. And though it’s billed as a comedy, it’s far darker than that.
Just a few steps away, exuberance reigns, in romance, murder, suicide and a rock musical revelation.
“The Few” runs through October 27.
“The Last Goodbye” continues through November 3, both at the Old Globe in Balboa Park.
©2013 PAT LAUNER