BWW Reviews: Intimate, Lush Production of Sondheim's PASSION Ignites the Stage
Perhaps I am an eternal cynic, but the romantic musical "Passion" (book by Jame Lapine; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) has never resonated with me. A dare say that it is probably my least favorite musical. Just because something isn't my cup of tea, doesn't mean there isn't much to admire in Fred Anzevino's handsome and intimate production of the Tony award-winning musical.
And the show, which ran only 280 performances on Broadway, certain has its legion of vocal fans who champion (among other things) the chamber musical's lush score.
Perhaps what has been missing the previous times I have caught the musical is exactly what Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre excels at. Some of Theo Ubique's past triumphs have all been about taking large musical spectacles such as "Chess" and "Cats" and distilling them down into an intimate, more truthful theatrical experience. Stripped away of the spectacle, Theo Ubique's productions have been able to get to the heart and soul of a piece while still managing to be visually engaging.
"Passion" has always felt a bit out of place in a large Broadway house. It's an intimate musical to begin with. When it's emotions have to be played large enough to be read by the back of a large theater, the show's stakes can almost become cartooonish.
Running at the No Exit Café through April 27, "Passion" has fortunately never felt more intimate.
Based upon the 1981 film "Passione d'Amore" and the 1869 serialized novel by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti (the final chapter of which was penned by posthumously by Tarchetti's friend Salvatore Farina), "Passion" is a tale about the sort of tragic love triangle that has fueled countless Italian poems, novels and operas.
Military officer Giorgio (Peter Oyloe) is content in carrying on an affair with the very married Clara (Collette Todd) when he receives orders to report to an isolated provincial outpost. It is there he meets the sickly Fosca (Danni Smith). The dying woman immediately becomes smitten with the handsome military man. Clara offers love with conditions (she is, after all married). Fosca, while more homely, offers love unrequited (and therefore unconditionally). Giorgio finds passion in both, but ultimately must choose.
The show's leading ladies bring much to the table in terms of passion. In the duet "Happiness," Todd and Oyloe find that right balance between that youthful exuberance of being in love and the tell-tale undercurrent that is the reality of their current situation. She is married and the conventions of the 19th century in which the story takes place would not permit a woman to leave her husband very easily.
As Fosca, Smith triumphs in one of the most demanding roles of the last two decades. Her heart and soul damaged from a previous love affair that soured, the frail Fosca nonetheless puts herself out there and allows herself to fall madly in love with Giorgio, despite -or even perhaps a little on account of-him being out of her league.
Oyloe is the odd man out here. He sings well, but seems to approach the role with a certain amount of apathy. Perhaps the director's point was to have Oyloe play the character as a pawn swept up by the passions of two different women? You're left with the portrait of a man who seems content with life happening to him, rather than actively participating in affairs with stakes as high as in "Passion."
In some ways, I see a bit of myself in him. I've seen the musical "Passion" on Broadway, on tour and at Ravinia, but I've never experienced the show in ways that fans seem to have. Fans of the musical will delight in this production. Theo Ubique once again proves to be one of the greatest gems in the Chicago theater scene. "Passion" is a masterful production that even a cynic will admire.
Theo Ubique's production of "Passion" runs through April 27 at the No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood. Tickets, $34-$39. Three-course dinner packages available for an additional $25. Call 800.595.4849. www.theo-u.com