Entertainment Weekly, August , 2002
by Lisa Schwarzbaum
Phase two of the
Kennedy Center's summerlong tribute to American musical master Sondheim
was a thriller.
One was legendarily a problem. One a crowd-pleaser. And one was such
a puzzlement when it premiered in 1994 that some in the audience laughed
out of nervousness and balky incomprehension. Yet this summer's reexamination
of Merrily We Roll Along, A Little Night Music and Passion -- the conclusion
of the brilliant Sondheim Celebration at D.C.'s John F. Kennedy Center
for the Performing Arts -- delivers revelations until the final curtain.
Merrily for instance, reverberates with even greater emotional force
some 20 years after Sonheim first wrote, bitterly and tenderly, about
creativity and friendship squandered and comprimised. The play, which
traces relationships among three old friends, unspools backward, a structure
that has always been its most astonishing creative leap. And while Christopher
Ashley's production doesn't back-vault fluidly, it does so with great
energy -- powered, particularly, by the magnetism of Raul Esparaza (previously
George in Sunday in the Park..) as idealistic playwright, Charley.
In contrast, Mark Brokaw's production of A Little Night Music rustles
and flows like silk, a confection of crossed desires. Yet, while Blair
Brown, John Dossett and Douglas Sills graciously play erotic peekaboo
as a grand actress and her two lovers, they also nestle into a kind
of weightlessness -- and Randy Graff steals the show as the wife of
a straying count.
Still, those agonies are nothing compared with the torments suffered
by Judy Kuhn and Michael Cerveris as a homely woman and the soldier
she overwhelms with love in Eric Schaeffer's commanding new Passion.
So this is what Sondheim was talking about! That this difficult tale
is finally comprehensible may be the greatest gift the Kennedy Center
could bestow on the man - and the audiences it honors.
Little Night Music: B-
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