Far from Heaven. Playwrights Horizons (see Off Broadway). Book by Richard Greenberg. Music by Scott Frankel. Lyrics by Michael Korie. Dir. Michael Greif. With Kelli O’Hara, Steven Pasquale, Isaiah Johnson. 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
Far from Heaven plot synopsis
Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale play a pseudo-perfect married couple in a new prestige musical, adapted from Todd Haynes's 2002 film. Richard Greenberg (The Assembled Parties) wrote the book; the score is by the Grey Gardens team of Scott Frankel and Michael Korie. Michael Greif's promising cast also includes Isaiah Johnson, Nancy Anderson, Alma Cuervo and Quincy Tyler Bernstine.
Far from Heaven theater review
In the glowing opening sequence of Far from Heaven, Hartford housewife Cathy Whitaker (O’Hara) sings a rhapsody to autumn in Connecticut. “The air is crisp and clear,” she warbles contentedly, “just feel that extra-special sparkle in the atmosphere.” One must suppress the urge to remind Cathy that although the falling leaves are bursting with Technicolor ruddy hues, they’re also dying—like her supposedly perfect marriage to Frank (Pasquale).
Fear no spoilers here. Even if you haven’t seen the 2002 Todd Haynes film on which this musical is faithfully based, you learn early on that Frank is fighting personal demons—the kind that are male and loiter in doorways after dark. His extramarital dalliances, and the resulting shame, drive him to drink and, eventually, away from his wife. At the same time, she finds herself romantically drifting toward the black gardener, Raymond (Johnson), a genteel widower with a child who offers her a sympathetic ear. Did I forget to mention this is all happening in 1957? Frank’s sexuality and Raymond’s ethnicity complicate matters slightly.
Haynes’s movie is a stylish homage to and subversion of the ’50s suburban melodramas of Douglas Sirk, and the film imitates his painterly framing and saturated color palette. Likewise, director Michael Greif and his designers fill scenes with shadow and color washes, trying to find an economical stage equivalent.
But for all the swoony melodies and elegant lyrics by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (the excellent team behind Grey Gardens), the production doesn’t transform the material into gripping musical theater. Part of the problem lies in Richard Greenberg’s serviceable but uninspired book. Casting is also to blame. O’Hara is perfect for the role of Cathy—too perfect. Her coolly bland exterior never cracks or warms convincingly. Pasquale is similarly frosty and removed, making an underwritten character even more unsympathetic. As a quality chamber musical by talented pros, Far from Heaven has its pleasures, but it’s hardly a gift from the gods.—Theater review by David Cote
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote
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