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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sondheim's Passion @CSC

I don't regret seeing this production directed by John Doyle, which I think is inferior to Jame's Lapine's original Broadway version (available on YT). My instinctive diagnosis of the problem is that this production is too rushed. All characters hurried on and off the stage to get through all the dialogs and songs. Everyone talks and walks too fast (and almost sings too fast). There is hardly any transitions from scene to scene. Shortcuts were taken that do not make sense, such as openly recycling a couple of actors/characters for different roles and having a mustachioed officer pretend to be Fosca's aunt in flashback scenes for bizarre comic effects. As a result the more emotional scenes lack the punch they deserve. Nevertheless nothing can replace the pleasure of hearing Sondheim's music sung in live theater. Some complain the score is too repetitive, but I love it, the entire breathless song that goes from the start to finish.

At the center of the play is Judy Kuhn who plays Fosca, the obsessive, manipulative, hystrionic woman who asserts her mad love for the leading man. She is reasonably OK but pales in comparison with Donna Murphy in the original version. Kuhn was too restrained. She looks and sounds more English than Italian. This character --- and the story --- cannot work without the Italian backdrop. She is more like Jane Eyre than Fosca Ricci. She is too weak and not fervent enough, not grotesque enough.

The male lead, Giogio, is difficult to play to begin with, because he is such a passive character. He sort of represents the audience's perspective and takes us through a wild journey. It would take a very strong actor to pull off the transformation. Unfortunately Ryan Silverman is not much of an actor and his overall performance is not convincing. Worse, it adds to the suspicion that he is just going through the motions as described in the script without feeling it himself. However, Silverman is blessed with a beautiful singing voice. Smooth and velvety, it's like a scoop of gelato on the verge of melting. Gelato has a better texture than ice cream because it is softer and melts more readily on the tongue. He is much better to listen to on the sound recording than to see on stage. The original production's Jere Shea's voice is not nearly as perfect as Silverman's but his acting is a lot better.

A sample of Silverman's silvery voice (bad pun, I know, couldn't resist) can be heard on YT in a studio recording here.

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