By: David Sheward
Originally conceived as half of a double-bill of one-act musicals, Stephen Sondheim’s Passion seemed more of a brief chamber opera rather than a full-blown Broadway musical when it premiered in 1994. Director John
Doyle, who has staged innovative interpretations of the legendary composer-lyricist’s Company and Sweeney Todd, gives the piece a more appropriately intimate setting at the Off-Broadway Classic Stage Company for this revival. Doyle also designed the spare setting-a bare platform with a few furnishings and props-which perfectly serves this slight story. In the original staging, Donna Murphy’s volcanic performance and Sondheim’s gorgeous music made up for the frailness of the story, but here the production is just as wispy.
Based on Ettore Scola’s film Passione D’Amore, James Lapine’s book follows the amorous trials of handsome Italian cavalryman Giorgio in a remote 19th century village. Separated from his lover, the married and beautiful Clara, he draws the borderline-obsessive attention of his commanding officer’s unattractive, invalid cousin Fosca. He initially rejects the manipulative, passive-aggressive Fosca, but gradually realizes her selfless affection is stronger than that of Clara who refuses to leave her husband and small son.
In the original production, the stunning Murphy was made over to be truly ugly. Here Judy Kuhn is just plain, so the conflict within Giorgio between judging love by appearance or spirit is not as powerful. However, Kuhn delivers a moving performance, dramatically and vocally, but she fails to match Murphy’s depth of complexity. Similarly Ryan Silverman has the voice to put across Giorgio’s songs, but the actor lacks the necessary passion-pardon the pun-to make us care about him. Melissa Errico makes a lovely Clara, but the role is tangential to the main thread. Veterans Stephen Borgadus, Tom Nelis, Jeffrey Denman, and Ken Krugman do their best in support.
Given Doyle’s previous productions of Sondheim shows in which all the characters played instruments, I expected Giorgio, Fosca and the whole regiment to be parading through the CSC space like a military band. He keeps the staging relatively free of such devices, with the exception of having the soldiers play all the roles-including female ones-in a flashback detailing Fosca’s disastrous marriage to a fake nobleman. Such ideas may have saved this Passion from the uninvolving staging. However, the score is beautifully played, so kudos to music director Rob Berman and orchestrator Jonathan Tunick who also worked on the original production.
March 3, 2013
Originally Published on March 3, 2013 in ArtsinNY.com
Feb. 28-April 7. Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 3pm & 7pm, Thu-Fri 8pm, Sat 3pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time 100 minutes with no intermission. $60-80. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111.