Homey and nostalgic, this musical means to emphasize the importance of laughter in the face of tragedy. But the sob stories overwhelm the charm. A dying old woman, a child ripped from her parents, a lovable zany killed by thugs, a nation herded like beasts to the slaughter: These are just a few of the show’s many tugs at our emotions. By the time we find Raisel in the Warsaw Ghetto, clutching a rag doll stained with the blood of a murdered Jewish friend, even the softest touch in the audience may grow wary of Dart’s hard sell. The People in the Picture reminds us of the Holocaust’s bitter injunction to never forget. It’s a worthy effort, but work this blunt can’t pierce very deep; the tears the show elicits are too easily wiped away.
THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURE Broadway Reviews
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In Donna Murphy, the creators have a shimmering star who can play a tender, doting grandma and yet evoke Lombard, that irresistible mix of winks and minx. But along with some syrupy writing, a mean streak runs through this show. For the first half, Jenny's mom, Red, is played (by Nicole Parker) as a strident over-achiever, hardened to her own mother's suggestion that she quit her job and care for her daughter herself.
It feels ungrateful to dismiss any new musical that offers Donna Murphy a chance to play a Nazi-oppressed Polish star of the Yiddish theater and an old Jewish grandmother in New York, to be so persuasively comic and tragic, to use so many parts of her marvelous voice in traditional Broadway ballads, operetta, vaudeville and the ancient stirrings in the klezmer music.
Murphy, as usual, loses herself in the part, which requires her to shift between time periods, often while remaining on stage...Unfortunately, the book and lyrics - by "Beaches" novelist and first-time Broadway story writer Iris Rainer Dart - and music - by Mike Stoller ("Smokey Joe's Cafe") and Artie Butler (who wrote the pop standard "Here's to Life") - don't always rise to Murphy's high standard.
Late in the second act, there is a moment when the secret has been revealed...Dart and company milk the moment for maximum hankie usage and several choruses of the sentimental "Saying Goodbye." A plethora of tear-inducing triggers, including a Camillelike death scene, are yet to come. Fortunately, the score-featuring flavorful music by the legendary Mike Stoller (of Leiber and Stoller fame) and Artie Butler and amusing lyrics by Dart-doesn't hit us over the head like the book.
If Ned Flanders and his fellow amateur thespians on The Simpsons staged a Springfield community musical about Jewish grandmothers and Yiddish theater in pre-war Poland and called it The Plotz Thickens!, they could do no worse than The People in the Picture, now singing and dancing near the footlights of desperation at Roundabout Theatre Company's Studio 54.
The music by Mike Stoller, known for "Smokey Joe's Cafe," and Artie Butler, famous for hits like "Here's to Life," constantly shifts gears between Yiddish music-hall pastiche and contemporary Broadway pop. Because melodies and motifs rarely, if ever, overlap, the spell cast by the show is constantly broken.
Without Ms. Murphy this well-meaning Roundabout Theater Company production - which has a book and lyrics by Iris Rainer Dart and songs by Mike Stoller and Artie Butler - would be thin treacle indeed. As it is, even Ms. Murphy (who also gets to portray the various characters that Raisel plays onstage and on screen) has trouble generating the kind of energy that makes an audience sit up and smile, or sit up, period.
The story might have been better served as a four-hanky screen tearjerker, but Murphy elevates the hackneyed material. Her Raisel is a difficult woman whose warmth toward her granddaughter contrasts with her needling criticism of her daughter...Bottom Line: Donna Murphy's customary poise and humor bring some unifying force to a tonally discordant show heavy on clichés.
The 2010-2011 Broadway season wisps to a close with "The People in the Picture." Holocaust-themed song-and-dancer is a thoroughly earnest endeavor, but earnestness doesn't necessarily ensure entertainment. Donna Murphy works extra hard as a glamorous Polish actress-turned-doddering Jewish grandmother, but to little avail.
A musical whose themes encompass the Holocaust and Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t exactly qualify as a feel good experience. That’s perfectly fine—there’s plenty of room on the boards for serious musicals these days. But the Roundabout’s The People in the Picture squanders its good intentions with its ham-fisted execution, a plethora of cheap jokes, and the sort of Jewish stereotypes (an elderly mother tries to score a handsome doctor for her single daughter, among other things) that may please elderly matinee ladies but few others.
Above all, star Donna Murphy is a Tony winner who's lit up the likes of "Passion" and "Wonderful Town." Here, she works tirelessly to perform CPR on a DOA show...it's not just the music that's subpar: The book is full of holes, and pulls at the heartstrings without earning its pathos, ensnaring good supporting performers like Alexander Gemignani (Paul's son), Nicole Parker, Chip Zien and Christopher Innvar into a gooey mess.
Much talent has been squandered on this stale confection, starting with that of Ms. Murphy, who switches from youth to old age and back again so deftly that you'll smile each time she does it. The cast is full of pros (it's always a joy to see Lewis J. Stadlen at work), and Andy Blankenbuehler, lately of "In the Heights," has staged the musical numbers with pleasing skill. If you have an unusually high tolerance for sentiment, you might find "The People in the Picture" barely endurable.