BWW Review: Heavy Handed WATERFALL at 5th Avenue a Cliché Mess

BWW Review: Heavy Handed WATERFALL at 5th Avenue a Cliché Mess
Katherine (Laura Griffith) and Noppon (Bie Sukrit)
in Waterfall at the 5th Avenue Theatre
Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka

With the creative team of Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire at the helm, I had high hopes for the new musical "Waterfall" currently playing at the 5th Avenue Theatre. With a pedigree like those two have there would have to be something to grab onto in the show, right? Unfortunately this adaptation of the Thai musical "Behind the Painting" based on the novel by Siburapha offered nothing but a clunky story and nuance free music and lyrics that elicited no passion or romance, which for a love story is deadly.

In "Waterfall" we meet young handsome student Noppon (Bie Sukrit) as he recounts his days working for Thai Diplomat Chao Khun (Thom Sesma) during the turbulent 1930's and 40's as the monarchy falls in Thailand and Japan readies itself for war. Noppon is assigned to escort Chao Khun's American wife Katherine (Laura Griffith) around while he is on business but the two fall in love.

Or at least, I assume there's a love story there but the show is so mired down in bad choices that it was difficult to tell who was in love with whom and why. Let's start with the writing. Richard Maltby, Jr. is better than this. But the heavy handed exposition, lack of any character arcs or nuance and cliché and repetitive lyrics that have no sense of moving along a story feel like they're coming from a first time writer and not a seasoned award winner. I think my favorite (or least favorite) line from the show that was so bad it has stuck with me long after the show was over was when Noppon gives Katherine a gift and she says, "A sketchbook! Wherever did you find it?" Um, I don't know, at a store?! And that's just one of the many unnecessary and incoherent lines in this piece. Shire's melodies are lovely but the lyrics don't help them out at all in conveying a story or tone.

The direction by Dan Knechtges and Tak Viravan is equally ham fisted. There's no indication of why the characters are doing the things they are doing or what they want or where they want to go. And when they do convey an emotion or intent, they convey the opposite about a minute later. Sentiments like "No, I don't love you" or "We can't do this" quickly turn into clothes being torn off and love and lust being professed for no reason other than we needed to get there at some point.

The leads do nothing to help this "love story" along. Sukrit and Griffith have less than no chemistry together. There's no indication as to why they fall in love or even have an affair other than that they're both in the same location. Sukrit seems to have one speed for his character and that's forced earnestness. There's no range or nuance to his performance making him completely unbelievable especially when he's supposed to have aged several years by the end of the show. Griffith is equally one note, giving nothing but a pretty voice. In fact both leads have gorgeous voices but when will musicals learn that a pretty voice isn't the only thing you need for a lead in a musical? You need someone who can tell the story as well. The pretty voices are only the first requirement.

Supporting actors Sesma as the aging diplomat, J. Elaine Marcos as the stern housekeeper Nuan and Lisa Helemi Johanson as the overly American Dance Club Owner Kumiko are the only saving graces of the show. Rich characters that I actually cared about. In fact I longed for the show about them. It would have been more interesting.

They tried to give us a sweeping love story with a rich historical backdrop (oh yeah there's a historical element to the show that never gets fleshed out) but instead they beat us over the head a hackneyed and weak love adjacent story that elicited nothing but confusion. No, it's not "Princesses" or "Flashdance" (my gold standard for bad shows) but with its numerous problems that I've only touched upon here I have no choice but to give "Waterfall" the dreaded WTF with my three letter rating system. It may have a pedigree and potential from it's source material and creative team but I didn't see any evidence of that and if it's eyeing Broadway then it's got a long, long way to go.

"Waterfall" performs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through October 25th. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.

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