Review Roundup: DOCTOR ZHIVAGO Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
Based on Boris Pasternak's Nobel Prize-winning 20th-century epic Russian masterpiece, Doctor Zhivago is directed by Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys), with a book by Michael Weller (Ragtime), music by Lucy Simon (The Secret Garden), lyrics by Michael Korie (Grey Gardens) and Amy Powers (Ella Enchanted), and choreography by Kelly Devine (Rocky). The musical officially opens at the Broadway Theatre tonight, April 21, 2015.
DOCTOR ZHIVAGO stars Tam Mutu (Donmar Warehouse's City of Angels) making his Broadway debut as the passionate Doctor and poet Yurii Zhivago, Kelli Barrett (Wicked) as the alluring Lara Guishar, Tom Hewitt (Rocky Horror Show) as the cynical bourgeois magistrate Viktor Komarovsky, Paul Alexander Nolan (Jesus Chris Superstar) as political radical Pasha Antipov, and Lora Lee Gayer as Tonia Gromeko, Zhivago's devoted wife.
DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is an epic romance, revolving around the search for love during the final days of Czarist Russia, the First World War and the chaos of the Russian revolution. Raised as an aristocrat, Zhivago is a political idealist, physician and poet whose life is tossed by the tides of history as he is torn between a life with his devoted wife, Tonia Gromeko and the passionate and mysterious Lara Guishar.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: ...the dismay here has to do with the musical itself, a turgid throwback to the British invasion of Broadway in the 1980s...If full-throated love ballads and thundering militaristic anthems, baggy plots, highly expositional dialogue and doomed romances are your cup of tea, fire up the samovar and give the show a try. But be warned..."Doctor Zhivago" is inferior in most respects to the musicals it is emulating...Ms. Simon...supplies a hefty measure of love ballads, melodic and skillful but tending to become indistinguishable...Mr. Weller's book does a reasonable job of keeping the complicated political and social upheavals comprehensible. But there's more emphasis on the conflicted romance between Lara and Zhivago...More unfortunately, the actors render their characters without much spark or individuality. Ms. Barrett's Lara looks lovely and sings beautifully but radiates a blandness...In the title role, Mr. Mutu sings strongly and with commitment and does a decent job of communicating the divided loyalties that tear at the heart of Zhivago.
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: Visually beautiful but one-dimensional, the show...is breathless and bombastic to the point of silly, undercutting not only the novel by Boris Pasternak but also some really wonderful actors in Tam Mutu and Kelli Barrett, and what could have been a memorable score by Lucy Simon...Nearby, in another theater, "Les Miserables," another flag-waving tale of revolution, looks absolutely subtle in comparison...here the epic nature seems just an excuse for adding flashy elements...Book writer Michael Weller thinks the audience need to be spoon-fed history in huge chunks, and so has used a shovel...Mutu and Barrett bravely give it their all and are utterly perfect as the star-crossed lovers. He is actually understated in a show that is anything but, and captures the inner turmoil of a forbidden love. Barrett's soprano is gorgeous and she is a worthy Lara, bewitching as a woman both tortured and strong...But pulling anyone back from the brink is not something McAnuff does naturally.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: The echoes of "Les Miserables" are so intrusive that it takes a firm act of will to shake off impressions of 19th century France and reset the mental clock for a later generation and a different country...Lara may be too vigorous a presence in Barrett's hearty performance, but Mutu's Doctor Zhivago isn't forceful enough. Which is actually rather strange, because the other actors tend to sing at top pitch, perhaps to make themselves heard over the gunfire, explosions and cannon booms from the never-ending wars being played out in the background. Helmer Des McAnuff...gives quite a lot of play to these bombastic war scenes...by the time the red flags are waved to signal victory, we seem to be back in "Les Miz."
Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: The show dutifully features all the major characters and dramatic moments familiar from the book and film, but in a breathlessly paced, mechanical style that never manages to engage the heart or mind...As the poet/physician Zhivago, British actor Tam Mutu...strikes a handsome presence and sings strongly. But his character, who should anchor the proceedings, never comes across forcefully, remaining a bland cipher throughout. Equally unmemorable is Kelli Barrett, who despite her blonde prettiness fails to convey the desperate urgency that would make us care about Lara's fate...Only Paul Alexander Nolan...truly impresses, delivering a nuanced turn while displaying truly powerful pipes...Simon's music is suitably lush, but the barrage of power ballads all tend to bleed together, lacking the soaring melodicism of...Les Miz...McAnuff has staged the complex proceedings with his usual solid professionalism, but it mainly comes across as an exercise in managing the voluminous onstage traffic.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: The shots -- all simulated, rest assured -- are about as much bang as the audience gets for its buck in this adaptation of Boris Pasternak's novel...Musical theater can also incorporate history and tragedy, as Bartlett Sher's gorgeous new revival of The King and I is reminding us. But as musicals based on classic literature have proven repeatedly over the past three or four decades, the form cannot accommodate humorlessness or self-importance -- or a lack of compelling songs, for that matter...Simon's music...plods along, usually offering melodrama in lieu of melodic invention. Leading man Tam Mutu...is at least comfortable on this turf, and he belts and broods gamely. But Kelli Barrett's Lara, while pretty and plucky, seems oddly contemporary...
Linda Winer, Newsday: ...this ambitious but politically vapid new adaptation may feed some unexpressed hunger for the Masterpiece Musicals of the '80s, now that the revolutionaries and urchins of "LES MISERABLES" have been storming the barricades for so very long...The show has big lung-bursting ballads, military anthems and folk-tinged dance music composed by Lucy Simon...There are sentimental lyrics by Amy Powers and Michael Korie that, despite the grown-up emotions involved, are stuck in nursery-school rhymes...Mutu, a British star in his impressive Broadway debut, has a heroic, chiseled presence and the flexible, high baritone to go with it. In Michael Weller's fact-stuffed but monotonous adaptation, however, we never get beyond knowing that Zhivago -- and Pasternak -- suffered horribly in the early decades of last century...Without socio-historical context, we only know that the rebels are bad, the aristocrats are good and love -- not to mention poetry -- elevates hearts battered by history.
David Cote, Time Out NY: Zhivago, based on Boris Pasternak's 1957 doorstop (which also inspired the great David Lean film) is a dauntingly interior novel to distill into a musical. Its stakes are more nuanced than in Hugo's moral fable, and there's not much drama watching our hero (Tam Mutu) sit down to write a poem after finally sleeping with longtime obsession Lara (Kelli Barrett)...No amount of Lucy Simon's syrupy, portentous music -- swamping Michael Korie and Amy Powers's workmanlike lyrics -- can make us care for the synthetic, drably colored pageant. Des McAnuff's staging looks expensive but ugly, with cheesy video close-ups of actors, giant Soviet propaganda posters, eruptions of fire and the occasional explosion or gunshot to wake us up. To Siberia with it.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: The new Des McAnuff-directed musical...boils the story down to a romantic core. That may have seemed like a winning approach, but this over-ambitious production...never manages to pull the heartstrings quite the way you wish it did...Mutu, a phenomenal London talent...is dapper enough to be convincing as a degraded aristocrat, but rugged enough to be believable risking himself to help people in the street...The ballads he's given are lovely, if not particularly memorable. Barrett keeps her soft-focus girlishness throughout, so it's hard to feel why three very different men devote their lifetimes, often at great risk to themselves, to loving and protecting her -- Lara could be more compelling...The battle scenes and recurrent explosions are vivid, and may leave you feeling as if you'd wandered into "Les Miserables."
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Broadway's "Doctor Zhivago" is an epic miss...this miscalibrated musical is yet another attempt to bottle page-to-stage lightning a la "Les Miserables." But electricity doesn't zap...The score by composer Lucy Simon and lyricists Michael Korie and Amy Powers resonates with occasional Russian-inflected melodies and lots of ardent power ballads. Respectable, but unremarkable, songs hang like wallpaper...Des McAnuff's direction is another issue...he fails to convey what matters most -- intimacy...We do understand that they're separated by revolution...We don't get enough of what's fueling their passion. Or why his writing is so important...As Yuri, London stage star Tam Mutu sings with a manly ardor and has a cleft chin deep as the Volga River. As the staunch Lara, Kelli Barrett's vocals are bright and clear. They're likable together but no fire. Without the inferno, the "Doctor" remains in guarded condition.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: Fiery revolutionaries, overheated passions, power ballads belted to the balconies, an upstanding hero and a fanatical villain -- hey, if it worked for "LES MISERABLES," it could work for "Doctor Zhivago"! The only problem is that the creators of this new musical forgot to include such minor details as compelling characters, thrilling drama or, you know, an inspiring score. At a time of heightened competition on Broadway, "Doctor Zhivago" is so dull, it may soon be Zhiva-gone.
Matt Windman, AM New York: The musical is unexpectedly easy to follow despite heavy exposition, multiple character arcs and constant action...The songs are soft and often moving. And while it's admirable that the creators largely avoided bombastic gestures, it never captures the emotional agony and historical turbulence its characters confront. You come away with no sense of why "Doctor Zhivago" has been turned into a musical in the first place. The lead actors are capable, but they turn in one-dimensional performances. Tam Mutu brings dashing looks to the title character but little else, and Paul Alexander Nolan ("Jesus Christ Superstar") resembles just a rush of intensity. As the elusive Lara, beloved by all the men, Kelli Barrett is attractive but hollow.
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: Simon, who can write lush ballads, here tends to the overwrought, with deafening accents provided by the intermittent firing of guns and cannons, of which McAnuff seems wildly enamored (possibly to encourage us to stay awake). Flag-waving, barricade-mounting protesters and a bizarre thematic set-element of chairs stuck together nod frequently, perhaps incessantly, to LES MISERABLES. Doctor Zhivago has all of that show's bombast -- minus the expert story-telling and skillful pop-music hooks that make the damned thing work. The tunes are unmemorable, the lyrics are generic and why is everyone speaking with British accents? Against all this, it seems unfair to assess the stars' performances.
Robert Hofler, TheWrap: It's got more marches than "The Music Man," more battle scenes than "La Forza del Destino," and it must set a record for the number of gun shots and bomb detonations in a Broadway musical. If all that noise doesn't inspire an immediate visit to the ear doctor, there's the score by Michael Korie, Amy Powers and Lucy Simon that's guaranteed to require it...although Kelli Barrett's chipper Laura offers a few moments of unintended levity. The ponderness of the material and Des McAnuff's direction make the two hours and 45 minutes fly by with the speed of a Soviet Union train. Nothing wears out its welcome faster than bombast. On the plus side, there's something truly noble about Mutu, a fine singing actor who somehow manages to deliver real conviction in the face of such a score, book and leading lady.
Jesse Green, Vulture: Can we please get this straight, Broadway? Sprawling European novels do not make great musicals...Unfortunately, this lesson...has fallen on deaf ears at the Broadway Theatre -- and I don't just mean those forced to endure the overamplified mess that is Doctor Zhivago. I also mean its authors and director, who together have turned Boris Pasternak's 700-page novel into a musical so aggressively awful it is almost sadistic...It's not just the constant noise and gore he hurls about...It's also that he has called forth the same concussive aesthetic from Weller and even the songwriters. Lucy Simon...once again provides well-crafted Romantic Lite tunes, but they are too often whipped into bombast by relentless overproduction...The English actor Tam Mutu...is clearly expert at the romantic bellow; he makes what can only be called an impressive Broadway debut as Zhivago. He pretty much blows everyone else away...The rest of the cast seem like afterthoughts, bits of fluff and color mainly useful for moving around the stage.
Jessica Shaw, Entertainment Weekly: Sadly, you never quite believe over the course of the misguided musical version of Doctor Zhivago that there's any great romance -- much less a spark of attraction -- between the poet-physician Yurii Zhivago (Tam Mutu) and his alleged paramour, the idealistic nurse Lara (Kelli Barrett). Mutu...is smoldering and strong, but as with any functional relationship, needs someone his equal. While Barrett's singing voice is undeniably beautiful, she seems to believe every line out of a Russian love story deserves overwrought delivery...Two-time Tony-winning director Des McAnuff...doesn't do the show any favors with dull staging, overuse of projections...and far too many deafeningly-loud explosives through battle scenes...While we're on the subject of auditory unfortunateness, Lucy Simon's score and Michael Korie and Amy Powers' lyrics are haunting at their finest (and admittedly, rarest) moments and just plain boring at their worst.
David Finkle, The Huffington Post: ...two hours and 40 minutes of tireless earnestness...The industriousness expended by all those creators has been, it's a true pity to relate, in the service of a Wikipedia go at Pasternak's brilliant, if occasionally turgid, take on the physician-poet Yuri Zhivago...Yes, it's a couple mouthfuls of love story...Battles rage, conflagrations torture the sky, explosions split the air, rifles spit...Mutu...has a rich baritone he puts to good use. Barrett...has a clear soprano she also employs well. Actually, the singing by everyone--certainly by Gayer, Nolan and Hewitt--is at a praise-worthy level. The catch is that as persuasive as they sound, they'd fare better were they given persuasive songs to sing. Instead, Simon's melodies are unrelentingly derivative. More than anything, they give the impression of being one extremely long song written for Les Miserables...Perhaps worse even than the music are the Michael Korie-Amy Powers lyrics.
Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: Doctor Zhivago...gallops across the first several decades of the 20th century. But the period it most resembles is the 1980s, with the spectacle-driven mega-musicals it birthed. Not that Doctor Zhivago, slickly directed by Des McAnuff, is especially mega...The music is big and the cast is big and the emotions are definitely outsized...And yet the impact is oddly minimal. Maybe it's the undistinguished book or Lara's ridiculous wig or those silly icicles, but Doctor Zhivago seems a lot more overblown than overpowering. The style is pure melodrama, but most of the actors don't have the stanchness or the lines to pull it off...Which is a shame, as many of the songs are skillful...many of them communicate tone and character eloquently...Kelli Barrett has a lovely voice, but can't sell Lara as the cynosure of every man's desire...And if Tam Mutu doesn't seem the poetry-writing type, he has a pleasantly romantic baritone and very handsome looks.
Ronni Reich, The Star-Ledger: As it chronicles love, war, survival instincts and purpose in a rapidly changing world, "Doctor Zhivago" is an earnest romance with an epic, operatic scope...the new Broadway musical covers ample ground, with nothing extraneous...Des McAnuff directs a thoughtful production. Yet in encompassing so much plot and philosophy so economically, the characters and their fates can sometimes feel oversimplified...Tam Mutu proves one of Broadway's strongest current leading men...A spirited Lara, Kelli Barrett shows off an impressive, wide-ranging voice...Simon gives them surging melodies with bold colors, and the score is filled with Russian-style grandeur...As it spans decades, the drama of the play can occasionally feel forced or reductive...The musical is true to the spirit of its age and presents unabashed emotion too rarely seen on the contemporary stage.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: Rare indeed are the musicals that begin, in essence, with three consecutive memorial services...but it is emblematic of the problems that beset this new Broadway musical...that love story is lost in a melange of flame, ice, death and frantic characters rushing around a heavily raked stage without ever seeming really to know where they are going...Nolan has an extraordinary singing voice, and Mutu certainly is no slouch in the vocal department, but he's a tad stiff and unyielding. There is a certain poignancy and truth in McAnuff's staging of a marriage rooted in warm affection but not the life force of sexual passion. And a few of Simon's songs are quite beautiful, although they all seem squelched by the conceptual whole, unable to break free. "Doctor Zhivago" is one of those shows that needed to cut through the icy clutter and find the optimism of love and the sacrifices it spawns. Alas, the poetic leanings of the title character are never fully explored.
Jonathan Mandell, DC Theatre Scene: Doctor Zhivago does weave in a whirlwind tour of Russian history of the early twentieth century, but its heart seems to be in a different era -- the Broadway of the 1980's, when musicals were pseudo-operatic, self-serious and soapy, yet somehow ran forever...All this love/hate unfolds in some 30 scenes over nearly three hours filled with some two dozen other performers, nearly two dozen songs, and almost as many explosions. The effort simply to stage manage all of this is unquestionably impressive; the individual parts, less so...Everybody seems competent enough; I don't know that a different cast member here or there would substantially have altered anything...Boris Pasternak would surely make a great subject for the stage -- although probably not a musical.
Rex Reed, Observer: Oh, the agony of it all. Wolves howl. Snow falls. Grenades explode. Guns blare. Vodka flows. Bodies fall. Marching boots stomp. Depressed and dying lovers search the Russian steppes for each other in vain, mournfully moaning lyrics that make no sense. Cue the violins, sawing away on atonal melodies nobody can remember. And somewhere, between one world war, one revolution, one civil war, one Red Army, one White Army, the fall of the Germans and the arrival of the Communists, an ambitious saga of tedium unfolds on the stage of the Broadway Theatre called Doctor Zhivago. You can hardly hear it for the snoring...The musical, clumsily directed by Des McAnuff...also sprawls, in all the wrong directions. Zhivago, imported from London, is somebody called Tam Mutu, who sports a strong voice like a bus-and-truck Alfred Drake, and with zero charisma...He leaves the details of stealing the show to Paul Alexander Nolan, who plays a villain with a handsome, lethal bravado that makes you understand why Lara fell for him in the first place.
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: At least one of the musicals that I see on Broadway each season leaves me shaking my head and muttering "What were they thinking?" on the way out of the theater. "Doctor Zhivago," which purports to be adapted from Boris Pasternak's 1957 novel of Russian life before and after the October Revolution but in fact appears to be based on David Lean's 1965 film version of the book, is the worst kind of case in point. No doubt the creators thought it more respectable to claim direct descent from the book, but when you bill such a show as "one of the most romantic stories of all time," you're probably not much concerned with suggesting the tone and texture of a serious novel, least of all one that no less a critical heavyweight than Edmund Wilson declared to be "one of the great events in man's literary and moral history." Not so the stage version of "Doctor Zhivago," a slow-paced commodity musical suitable only for consumption by tone-deaf tweenagers.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy