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Here We Are

  • Theater, Musicals
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Here We Are
Photograph: Courtesy Emilio MadridHere We Are

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

There are riches in Stephen Sondheim's final musical.

Theater review by Adam Feldman 

“Here we are,” says a maîtresse d'hôtel as she seats a table of wealthy people at the fancy Café Everything. “I hope this is acceptable. Your enabler will be here momentarily.” But the plenitude promised by the restaurant’s name is soon revealed to be a grave exaggeration, and the hungry patrons are no luckier finding food at their next destination, a “post-deconstructive” French bistro where tragedy has recently struck. “It is what it is,” sings their waitress, who alternates between wailing and Gallic resignation. “Things are what they are. La vie est la vie.”  

The aggrieved would-be diners wind up spending the entire first act of Here We Are in a literally fruitless quest to be fed, and some audiences at this collaboration between the playwright David Ives and the composer Stephen Sondheim may feel similarly confused and undernourished. Yet I should say up front that I enjoyed it very much. Sondheim’s final musical is not quite a full meal—not, at least, as a Sondheim musical per se—but how could it be? After working on the show sporadically for a decade or so, the irreplaceable Broadway auteur died in 2021, having written a fair amount for the first half but not very much for the second. 

But if Here We Are amounts to a plate of hors d’oeuvres in the Sondheim oeuvre, it is exquisitely well served in its world premiere at the Shed; Ives, director Joe Mantello and the superb ensemble cast deliver a deluxe production. In the first act, adapted from the surrealist Spanish moviemaker Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), six upper-class friends fail continually to eat; in the second, based on Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1962), the aristocrats have finally arrived at an actual dinner, only to find that they now can’t leave—and their vaunted manners begin to decay, Lord of the Flies-style, in the face of potential starvation and death.

Ives gives both stories the same cast of characters, and makes one of them—the sunny Marianne, played by a thoroughly enchanting Rachel Bay Jones in fluffy slippers and a sky-blue peignoir—the closest thing to the story’s central figure. The main group also includes Marianne’s track-suited industrialist husband, Leo (Bobby Cannavale), and another married couple, a plastic surgeon (Jeremy Shamos) and a Hollywood agent (Amber Gray); the sleazy Ambassador (Steven Pasquale) of a Latin American banana republic called Moranda—a change from the film’s Miranda, perhaps to avoid confusion with Lin-Manuel?—is also on hand, doing dirty business with the husbands while talking dirty to their wives. They are later joined by a Bishop played by David Hyde Pierce, in a fabulously excessive golden miter and robe by the costume and set designer David Zinn. 

Here We Are | Photograph: Courtesy Emilio Madrid

Buñuel’s attitude toward the upper classes seemed to mellow in the decade between the savage The Exterminating Angel and the more prankish Discreet Charm; he went from throwing bombs to lighting exploding cigars. Here We Are’s approach is closer to the latter, recognizing the characters’ corruption—backed up against a plain white wall in Act I, staring out at the audience, they call to mind a police lineup, or perhaps a firing squad—while retaining an arch amusement at their foibles. (Marianne and Leo plan to clone their dogs so they can have them at each of their many homes.) The insufferable people of Act I end up suffering in Act II, which makes them, if not more sympathetic, at least a little humbler. 

While maintaining a general air of surrealism, and occasionally dipping into the metatheatrical zone, Ives plumps up the films’ characters and plots, sometimes more fleshily than others: Marianne’s sister Fritz (Micaela Diamond) now has a pivotal role as a limousine radical with a crush on a dreamy soldier (Jin Ha), while the material involving his colonel (Francois Battiste) is underdeveloped. Here We Are is more broadly funny than the  films and also more overtly philosophical, with a recurring theme about the gap between appearances and reality—though it doesn’t go all that deep. (Perhaps only an actor of Pierce’s limitless grace could pull off the wishy-washy wisdom of the speech the Bishop delivers toward the end.) 

“Goodness me, how superficial,” sings Marianne as she luxuriates in Zinn’s sumptuous set. “Well, what’s wrong with superficial?… I want things to gleam/ To be what they seem, / And not what they are.” The barbed wit of those lyrics is archetypically Sondheimian, and Here We Are is studded with moments of verbal dazzle. “We do expect a little latte later/ But we haven’t got a lotta latte now,” explains a deeply apologetic waiter in a hiccupy waltz sung by Denis O’Hare, who plays all of the male servants in the show. (Tracie Bennett plays all of the female ones; both are excellent.) Musically, the score is equally Sondheimian but less memorable; smartly filled out by orchestrator Jonathan Tunick and music supervisor Alexander Gemignani, it tends to eschew melody in favor of jumpy, wordy conversation-setting, in the vein “A Country House” from the London Follies or the middle part of “The Gun Song” from Assassins. (The love music for the soldier and Fritz, which Ha and Diamond sing extremely well, could be Sondheim parodying his own score for Passion.) 

Here We Are is meticulously assembled—including by choreographer Sam Pinkleton, lighting designer Natasha Katz, and sound designer Tom Gibbons—as well as cleverly written and wonderfully performed. It also, at a certain point, runs out of music. About 15 minutes into Act II, the onstage piano goes dead quiet. “Rest in peace,” says the Bishop, and as Pierce says the line he looks out and up, as though acknowledging a greater loss. And that seems to be the overall attitude of Mantello’s production: recognizing, and moving forward. This is what we have, it seems to say, and this is better than nothing. It is what it is. We are where we are. Here we are. Here we go.

Here We Are. The Shed (Off Broadway). Book by David Ives. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Directed by Joe Mantello. With Rachel Bay Jones, Bobby Cannavale, David Hyde Pierce, Micaela Diamond, Steven Pasquale, Amber Gray, Jeremy Shamos, Denis O’Hare, Tracie Bennett, Jin Ha, Francois Battiste. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission. 

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Here We Are | Photograph: Courtesy Emilio Madrid

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


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