`Hello Again' Lacks Resonance, `Cole' Revue Feels Manufactured
On separate coasts, two theater events are driven mostly by music
NEW YORK — HELLO AGAIN. Musical by Michael John LaChiusa. At the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center in New York through Mar. 13.
COLE. Musical revue devised by Alan Strachan and Benny Green.
IT is obvious that Michael John LaChiusa is an audacious new talent in musical theater. What isn't so clear is whether or not his cleverness will get the best of him.
Earlier this season, there was an Off-Broadway production of his ``First Lady Suite,'' a trio of chamber musicals featuring Jacqueline Kennedy, Bess Truman, and Mamie Eisenhower as characters.
His new work, which is playing at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater, is Hello Again, loosely based on Arthur Schnitzler's ``La Ronde.'' The musical consists of 10 short scenes, each 10 minutes or less, set in different decades and concerning various groups of lonely people looking for sex and hoping for love.
Scene 1 is ``The Whore and the Soldier,'' Scene 2, ``The Soldier and the Nurse,'' and so on, with one character from each scene spilling over into the next, forming a circle of carnal knowledge gained and souls lost. It is performed by an ensemble of 10, and directed and choregraphed by Graciela Daniele.
LaChiusa's music is more accessible in this work than it was in ``First Lady Suite,'' although he again concentrates more on complexity than on discernible melodies. What's distressing is the lack of resonance in the piece. It's all very clever, and sometimes very amusing, but there is little irony or sophistication in this time-crossing epic.
Some of the material scores laughs simply because of the situation - a 1910s encounter between an older and younger man on a ship that turns out to be the Titanic; or a disco encounter between a writer and a young man in which choreographer Daniele gloriously re-creates the Travolta moves from ``Saturday Night Fever'' (the writer entices the young man by telling him that Paul Newman has slept on his futon mattress).
Daniele has staged the proceedings with her customary fluidity, and there are excellent contributions by such performers as Donna Murphy, John Cameron Mitchell, and Michelle Pawk (although all of the cast is up to par).
The production is high-quality, including Derek McLane's dramatically stark, expansive setting that conveys an air of timelessness, Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer's haunting lighting, and Toni-Leslie James' period-perfect costumes.
``Hello Again'' is always intelligent, but it's too bad that there's so little to take home with you - LaChiusa may have to learn to concentrate less on his conceptions and more on what he wants to say.
By contrast, when the credits for a show read ``devised by,'' it is a sign that the evening is going to have something of a manufactured quality. That was the case with Cole, which played at the Henry Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, the latest in what seems like a never-ending series of revues devoted to the music of notable composers.
``Cole,'' of course, is Cole Porter, not a bad choice as these things go, especially since, to my memory, his music has not previously been a subject for a revue.
With material like ``I Love Paris,'' ``Love for Sale,'' ``You're the Top,'' ``Anything Goes,'' ``Night and Day,'' and ``I've Got You Under My Skin,'' not to mention a medley from ``Kiss Me, Kate,'' the evening was not going to be without its musical pleasures.
And in the case of Porter, who wrote words as well as music, it was not without its literary pleasures as well - he was a wonderfully witty wordsmith. One of the high points of this show was getting acquainted with many of his lesser-known and delightful songs.
Unfortunately, ``Cole'' was a rather pedestrian effort that simply present the songs, one after the other, in formula style, with biographical tidbits about the composer (``and then he wrote'') thrown in every once in a while.
The cast featured several musical-theater performers, including Ron Richardson (``Big River''), La Chanze (``Once on This Island''), Wanda Richert-Preston (``42nd Street''), Nancy Ringham (``Will Rogers Follies''), Ray Benson (the Broadway ``Singin' in the Rain''), and Carl Danielsen (who also collaborated on the musical arrangements), and they clearly knew how to put across the material.
But Bick Goss's staging was lackluster and the evening never fully came to life.
Several silly bits didn't help matters. They included a lame pirate spoof in ``I Concentrate on You,'' and a bizarre first-act finale on ``Anything Goes,'' in which the cast played a profusion of musical instruments, including the tuba.
Don't look for this one to make its way to New York.