Monday, December 14, 2009
I had read Heinrich von Kleist's short story "Michael Kohlhaas", and E.L. Doctorow's novel and seen the 1981 Milos Forman movie. My friend Cheryl and I wondered if Jimmy Cagney (he plays the Police Commissioner- it was his last movie appearance) remembered the times the story is set in. I even had the orginal cast CD with Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' haunting songs. But I had not seen it, until the matinee yesterday.
I just loved it. All the actors acted and sang beautifully (not always true in musicals, I'm afraid). Marcia Milgrom's Dodge's direction was clear (pretty key in show this big) and affecting. Terence McNally's book is brisk and informative, but you never feel weighed down by too much information. Donald Holder's lighting was as wonderful as ever. In particular, I enjoyed Christiane Noll. She was utterly believable as Mother, as was the way she grew from a doting Westchester wife and mother into her own person.
One of the things that surprised me the most was the set. Derek McLane designed, who I worked with a million years ago (I was Cathy Zuber's assistant at the Yale Summer Cabaret when he was the resident set designer there; they were both still in the Drama School). I saw the set when I curtain rose and thought, "Oh, my God, he's channeled Eugene Lee!" But as the show went on, I realized that McLane had done something very difficult. He built a structure that was able to transform into a ship dock, a train station, an Atlantic City pavilion and finally the Morgan Library. Now maybe you can fudge how the Morgan Library looks if you've never been there, but I've been there many times. And McLean's structure is just enough of how it really looks to give it verisimilitude.
Several other playwrights had told me that they find the show (now and ten years ago) "cold." I didn't feel that at all, though that may be true in less skillful directorial hands.