Thursday, 6 November 2014

Passion, Sondheim, REVIEW, Nov 5, 2014 ***

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim & Book by James Lapine
Based on film, Passione D’Amore by Ettore Scola
By Life Like Company
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, Nov 5 to 8, 2014

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Stars: ***
Full review also published online in Herald Sun  today, Nov 6. It will also run in print tomorrow, Nov 7, 2014. KH
Kane Alexander & Silvie Paladino. Pic by Ben Fon

Stephen Sondheim’s score for Passion is luscious and emotive, capturing the essence of this boldly dramatic story of clandestine affairs and unrequited love.

The musical opens with Georgio (Kane Alexander), a young soldier, and his beautiful, married lover, Clara (Silvie Paladino), entwined in each other’s arms in a rumpled bed and singing of their unbounded happiness and secret love.

When Georgio is transferred from Milan to a remote, provincial military base, the two keep their love alight with intimate letters.

But Georgio is unprepared for the unwanted, relentless attentions of Fosca (Theresa Borg), the ailing, lovelorn cousin of Colonel Ricci (Mark Dickinson).

Sondheim and James Lapine’s Tony Award winning musical is set in Milan in 1863 and based on Ettore Scola’s film, Passione D’Amore.

The story is operatic in style with heightened characters, and Sondheim embodies this dramatic quality in his expressive lyrics, melodies and often surprising harmonies.

His atmospheric score is rich in tone and colour with arrangements (originally by Jonathan Tunick) that are capably played by the orchestra under conductor, Guy Simpson.

This production, directed by Neil Gooding, succeeds in the greater part because of the fine singing and evocative music, but the direction veers toward the melodramatic and the acting is uneven.

Paladino’s clear, bright voice is well suited to the elegant, rich and beautiful Clara, while Alexander’s delivery has warmth and vigour.

Their opening duet, Happiness, has an intoxicating ardour and their story continues with a series of duets as they sing their impassioned love letters.

However, it is the character of Fosca that is the pivot of this tale of blasted dreams as her obsessive love for Georgio smoulders then blazes, destroying both Fosca and Georgio.

Borg captures the melancholic Fosca in her portrayal of this pallid, dark-eyed wraith who drifts in and out of the soldier’s mess, grasping at Georgio, demanding his love and manipulating him into spending time with her.

Borg’s upper register is pretty as she expresses Fosca’s pitiful need and ignorance of love, but her lower register that needs to express Fosca’s darker depths has less power and control.

The soldiers’ chorus provides thrilling harmonies that echo the words of Fosca, Georgio and Clara, but their choreography needs tightening and, when these men play women, it looks uncomfortable and inappropriately comical.

This production is musically tantalising, but the direction and acting style do not quite do justice to the drama and mood of this unusual Sondheim musical.

By Kate Herbert

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