BWW Reviews: Randy Newman's FAUST More Concert Than Musical Theatre

July 5
3:13 AM 2014

Not very far into Randy Newman's Faust, God complains to Lucifer how his "stupid old shuffle songs" sound "always the same."

BWW Reviews:  Randy Newman's FAUST More Concert Than Musical Theatre
Randy Newman (Photo: Joan Marcus)

It's a cute little joke at that point in the show but by the second act his word can be taken as gospel.

More of a bluesy oratorio than a theatre piece, especially in Encores! Off-Center's one-night concert performance, Newman's 1995 take on Goethe's same-named 19th Century opera is most known for its all-star concept album that includes performances by James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Elton John, Don Henley and the composer/lyricist himself as the devil.

As a collection of songs, some of which have a bit to do with the story of how the lord and the devil make a bet over the soul of Notre Dame student Henry Faust, it's an enjoyable mix of gospel, blues, rock and, yes, shuffle songs. Selections like "Gainesville" and "Feels Like Home" have enjoyed popularity outside of the show.

But even musicals with outstanding scores can grow tiresome when the book lacks empathy and emotion. Director Thomas Kail's staging had the author seated at a far stage right piano for most of the evening, narrating chunks of the heavily truncated text in the same gravelly voice that sounds so full of wry wisdom when he sings. With his character taking on the bulk of the score, and no real attempt made to make the devil anything but Randy Newman speaking lines and singing songs, the evening resembled a concert in the traditional sense of the word and not in the theatrical sense of presenting a concert version of a musical play.

BWW Reviews:  Randy Newman's FAUST More Concert Than Musical Theatre
Tony Vincent, Isaiah Johnson, Laura Osnes and Michael Cerveris
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

Nevertheless, there was a healthy display of talent bringing out the best of Newman's work, including Isaiah Johnson as a self-centered God, Tony Vincent as a punker Faust, Laura Osnes as the sweet girl he falls for, Michael Cerveris as God's imposing Brit sidekick and Vonda Shepard as Lucifer's main gal.

Gospel choir harmonies were supplied by Broadway Inspirational Voices, conducted by Michael McElroy, and Chris Fenwick led the 11-piece orchestra.

Though certainly an enjoyable evening for Randy Newman fans and those who love the concept album, as musical theatre goes, I'll stick with Adler and Ross' Faust.

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