BWW Reviews: Unbearably Bland DOCTOR ZHIVAGO Can Use a Show Doctor
Bombs go off and guns are shot in the new pop-drama musical based on Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago, but these explosions don't offend the ears nearly as painfully as musical declarations of passion like, "I bring you in, / I feel you on my skin," or forced attempts at wit such as, "The orchestra resumes the beat. / The servants pour Château Lafite."
At least they actually rhyme.
There's a lot of very good work to be seen in Broadway's latest offering; a tragic romance between a doctor/poet and the volunteer nurse who loves him during the rise of the Russian Revolution. Des McAnuff, a master at staging big, sweeping musical epics works with designer Michael Scott-Mitchell's free-flowing set to keep the story moving swiftly through its numerous locations. With designers Paul Tazewell (costumes) and Howell Binkley (lights) they create some striking visuals. (Although the show curtain made of chairs, inspired by a character's reference to "so many abandoned chairs where writers once sat," is a bit much.)
The cast is full of fine and expressive singing voices and Kelly Devine's choreography is interesting and exciting.
If it weren't for the book, music and lyrics, this would be a pretty terrific show.
The main problem is that Pasternak's complex story is primarily told through co-lyricists Michael Korie and Amy Powers' series of blandly-worded pop drama numbers that are too fixed on expressing commercially-minded universal emotions to get to the specifics of the plot and character. Michael Weller's scant book is regulated to mapping out a connect-the-dots narrative. Lucy Simon's music is familiar and inoffensive, which is probably worse than being bad.
British actor Tam Mutu is an attractively noble idealist as the good doctor, but the score limits him to singing loud power ballads all night. Lora Lee Gayer, as his dedicated wife, and Kelli Barrett, as the woman who sets his artistic soul ablaze, have little of interest to do.
Paul Alexander Nolan, as the young revolutionary who eventually becomes a ruthless Marxist leader, is handed the only fully-realized role of the piece and takes advantage of it with the liveliest and most gratifying performance.
On the eve of his joining the Tsar's army on the front lines in an attempt to organize a soldiers rebellion, he explodes with humor and energy in a wonderful song and Cossack dance number where he says goodbye to his friends. It's the only few minutes of Doctor Zhivago that combines solid entertainment with legitimate character development.