Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What Would Audrey Do?

Why is it so hard for musical theater writers to create shows in which something vital is at stake? And to put that something vital onstage? Yes, all good musicals do contain an element of fantasy, but the ones that work are grounded in reality. And I'm really not that hard to please when it comes to musicals. If interesting characters sing a few nice songs and entertain me, I'm generally happy.

Which is why the Transport Group's homage to Audrey Hepburn, Being Audrey, was so disappointing. (My Time Out New York review.) On paper, the seeds for a good story are there: a woman struggles to reinvent herself after tragedy strikes. But rather than show her travails and perhaps call on Audrey Hepburn's grace and charm to help her through them, the play consists mostly of her interacting with fantasy characters from films. Because these aren't people she has any actual relationships with, it's hard to become invested in what happens.

Quite a contrast from the dream sequence in the electric revival of Hair that I caught (with my mother, no less!) on Saturday, or even the dream ballet in Oklahoma! where we take a brief respite from reality to venture into a character's mind in a way that only musical theater can. In those instances we're already familiar with the characters and their dilemmas, and they're not escaping reality, they're pushing their struggles to their breaking point before the show reaches its denouement.

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