'Chronicle of a Death Foretold' Holds Few Surprises Except Good Dancing

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD. At the Plymouth Theatre.

'Never was a death so foretold," repeatedly intones the narrator of the adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 1981 novel. By the time viewers have finished sitting through this ponderous musical-theater piece, they are likely to wish that the event might have come as more of a surprise.

Serious intentions abound in this work, which has landed on Broadway after a previous workshop production. And there is much talent involved, befitting a show that has been the recipient of financial sponsorship and grants from such organizations as AT&T, the Rockefeller Foundation, and others.

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The conception, direction, and choreography are by Graciela Daniele (who has ventured into such territory before with her "Dangerous Games" and "Tango Apasionado"), the music is by Bob Telson ("Gospel at Colonus"), and there is additional material by one of theater's hottest composer-lyricists, Michael John LaChiusa ("Hello Again," "First Lady Suite").

The plot is filled with Latin passion, and is supposedly based on a real event in Colombia. A wealthy stranger arrives in a South American village and falls in love with a beautiful local woman. When he discovers upon their marriage that she is not a virgin, he returns her in disgrace to her family.

Her brothers, who suspect a local playboy to be responsible for their family's dishonor, plot to murder him, and no one in the village, where everyone is aware of their plan, tries to stop them.

This kind of material is hard to pull off, and Garcia Marquez's novel succeeds brilliantly. But a heavy-handed adaptation can approach the level of camp, and that is precisely what this production does, when it is not being something even worse - boring.

The 90-minute piece is called a musical, but songs are less present than an atmospheric aural background. Much more central is the dancing, which is nearly continuous. Four of the roles are tackled by dancers from major companies: George de la Pena, from the American Ballet Theatre; Alexandre Proia, the New York City Ballet; Gregory Mitchell, the Feld Ballet, and Luis Perez, the Joffrey Ballet.

They all dance superbly, but the choreography they are called upon to perform, much of which necessarily serves a narrative function, may not sustain interest for the entire time.

Other members of the cast include Tonya Pinkins, who struggles mightily to achieve a stylized effect as the bodega keeper who serves as narrator, and Saundra Santiago, who brings a real charm to the role of the bride. Of the others, De la Pena proves that the charisma he exhibited onstage in the shortlived Broadway musical "The Red Shoes" was no fluke.

Nobody involved need be ashamed of their efforts here, and audiences will appreciate the show's ambitions and atmosphere. But "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" has the air of a project that was begun more out of good intentions than because anyone was convinced it would work.

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