Tuesday, October 09, 2007

It's One of Those Pretty Shows

Stephen Sondheim's Passion may have only ran for 280 performances in the 1994 season, but its four heavy-hitting Tony Awards, including Best Score, Book, & Musical, helped launch it into a cozy nook among small cult high-brow musicals. Passion's stirring & romantic subject matter at the forefront, it truly remains an intimate chamber piece, a fact Chicago Shakespeare Associate Director Gary Griffin displays & executes gorgeously.

Though lacking in much color, Eugene Lee's double-decker Italian parlour set & Paul Miller's isolatingly hazy lighting design has transformed Chicago Shakespeare's Studio Theatre into the most intimate space in which I have ever experienced a Broadway musical. What's special about
Passion, though, is it does not need a large set or expansive movement space to tell its tale. At the center of James Lapine's word-perfect book is a hauntingly painful love story between an Italian officer, his lover, & his superior's tragically sick cousin.

Griffin found a lovely sung Clara in Broadway regular Kathy Voytko. Thought Clara is mainly restricted to letter-reading with her lover, Voytko's conflicted emotions grow more complex throughout the piece, allowing compassion for the woman behind the pen (or the woman without a top, depending). Leading man Adam Brazier's Giogio has the good looks & boyish charm everyone's always singin' about, but leaves little to be desired in the acting department. Against his female counterparts (and strong military male ensemble led by the equally strong Kevin Gudahl's), Mr. Brazier simply comes across as the boy he still appears to be. Unfortunate in a leading man, especially for a character as stage-and-plot-heavy as Giogio.

The highlight of the evening, &
Passion's appeal in general, is the character of Fosca, played heartbreakingly by Ana Gasteyer. Shedding many years of former SNL characters (and Chicago & Broadway's Wicked's hat & cape), Ms. Gasteyer takes command over the troubled & homely Fosca with respect, control, & hidden elegance. When Fosca gains control of Giogio's situation, the room becomes still & scared. She has us in the palm of her crippled hand. The look is there. The singing is there. Gasteyer is the unexpected perfect choice for the role.

All in all, Mr. Griffin has, yet again, crafted a wonderfully pretty evening. Unlike his Sunday in the Park with George or Pacific Overtures, nothing has been remarkably reinvented. What we do get, though, is Sondheim's lush chamber score, Lapine's meticulous book, & some wonderful performers showcasing the obsession of love.

And yeah, tonight's trip made me think of Lonny Price's production.
I couldn't help it.


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A to the S said...

just saw passion. we should talk. i loved it.

William said...

Just laying that out there: Adam Brazier was no good. Like, no good. Maaaaaaaaaaaaybe his singing saves his poor acting performance, maybe. But other than him, what a great show!