Red, Misread, and Blue

While I'm at it, I have a complaint on behalf of the lyricist, too: For "I Am Going to Like It Here," Hammerstein invented an unusual verse form, something like an Americanized villanelle, presumably to give the song a ritualized, "foreign" quality. It is probably the only song in the R&H repertoire that should never, under any circumstances, be interrupted by dialogue or business, which are guaranteed to break the audience's concentration. Longbottom and Hwang provide both, a sure sign that their primary interest lies in neither the material nor the performers. Do they think there's something else we go to musicals for?

Some music, though, almost begs for interruption. Amour is 90 minutes of continuously spun out, always pretty, rarely developing, musical phrases by Michel Legrand. It's never painful; you just keep wishing that it would occasionally either take a breather or build itself into some meaningful shape. The latter comes close to happening once or twice, when Melissa Errico is warbling the frustrations of a neglected young wife, for whom the composer's sympathy is tunefully audible. Offenbach being his model, there's also a climactic can-can, for the almost-happy ending, that tickles the pulse as well as the musical ear. The rest, though helped by a lot of excellent acting and rather good singing, tends to the drab.

Flower Drum Song: Assimilation has fewer fans these days.
photo: Joan Marcus
Flower Drum Song: Assimilation has fewer fans these days.


Flower Drum Song
By David Henry Hwang
Music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
Virginia Theatre
245 West 52nd Street

Music and lyrics by Didier van Cauwelaert and Michel Legrand,
translated by Jeremy Sams
Music Box Theatre
239 West 45th Street

Aymé's story, which gleefully razzes every kind of authority, is full of a cynical panache that seems to have gotten flattened out, in Legrand and Didier van Cauwelaert's overly tidy work, to a demoralizing extent. Jeremy Sams's translation rolls through long passages with witty, ingenious precision, and then strangely sinks into globs of what sounds like unmetered gabble, or stupidities like rhyming "Montmartre" with "Sinatra" in one breath and "Sartre" two lines later. Magritte's paintings are the visual source of James Lapine's production, but it's a Magritte with the brightness and savage perkiness removed: Against the flat, mostly blue walls of Scott Pask's drab set—a Montmartre without hills or steps—Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer project one of the drabbest light plots in memory, painting everyone's face except Norm Lewis's a flat pasty-white. Dona Granata's costumes, though mostly in an equally drab brown, have a good deal more variety: The closest the show gets to dramatic excitement is when the hero, having taken up a life of crime, decides to dress the part and dons a garish red plaid jacket. Otherwise, Amour remains for the most part very blue indeed, even though Malcolm Gets sings the hero with lovely, unforced freshness, and acts out his nerdy wistfulness charmingly. Errico's sweetness, too, comes with ease and vocal beauty, and there are first-rate supporting turns by Lewis, Nora Mae Lyng, and Christopher Fitzgerald as three local street types, plus one by John Cunningham, as a drunk doctor, that suggests he might be useful to anyone making a musical of Fawlty Towers.

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