The Doctor Is In. The Aussie Reviews

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The Doctor Is In. The Aussie Reviews#1
Posted: 2/28/11 at 6:32am


'Doctor Zhivago- The Musical'
Lyric Theater, Sydney.
2,000 seats.
by Paul Chai

An Anita Waxman, Tom Dokton, Chun-Soo Shin, Latitude Link, Corcoran Prods., Power Arts, Pelican Group and John Frost presentation of a musical in two acts with book by Michael Weller, lyrics by Michael Korie, Amy Powers, music by Lucy Simon.

Directed by Des McAnuff.

Yurii Zhivago - Anthony Warlow
Lara - Lucy Maunder
Tonia - Taneel Van Zyl
Pacha Antipov - Martin Crewes
Alexander - Peter Carroll
Viktor Komarovsky - Bartholomew John
Anna - Trisha Noble

The creators of "Doctor Zhivago," the musical, have apparently learned much from their 2006 run at La Jolla Playhouse, where audiences reportedly felt history dwarfed the central story. This new version makes love, not war, the central theme, and to moving effect. While squeezing Boris Pasternak's 500-pager onto the stage creates a densely packed show, there are plenty of moments that allow the key musical numbers to shine and avoid the shadows cast by David Lean's film.

For a tuner, this one is certainly front-loaded with funerals, weddings, war and revolution. But Michael Weller's taut dialogue and Michael Scott-Mitchell's deceptively simple automated set smoothly establish the early life of Yurii Zhivago. Anthony Warlow's poet-doctor is no cipher, like Omar Shariff in Lean's pic, but rather a tortured man with a divided heart. The busy start means that there's a bit too much exposition as the five leads play out their complex and overlapping search for enduring love against the tumultuous backdrop of 20th century Russia.

But this musical hits its stride by the time Zhivago and Lara (Lucy Maunder) begin their passionate affair, with the haunting "Now." The lyrics unfold with the letter of a dead soldier to his lover, then morph into the growing emotions of Zhivago and Lara, stationed in a military hospital. Lucy Simon's unabashedly romantic score continues to deliver, with the rousing "Forward March for the Czar," which she and lyricists Michael Korie and Amy Powers effectively reprise twice. It is first sung by a chorus of soldiers fighting back the Germans; in its last incarnation, a long wounded grunt sings it, signaling the start of the Russian civil war.

The second act gives the key players far more room to develop chemistry. When Lara and Zhivago's loyal wife, Tonia (a poised Taneel Van Zyl), meet for the first time, they sing "It Comes as No Surprise," a heart-wrenching song of mutual admiration. Maunder's feisty yet vulnerable portrayal of Lara makes such respect entirely plausible, and that veracity extends to her feelings for Zhivago, husband Pacha (a riveting Martin Crewes) and lover Viktor Komarovsky (a gruff Bartholomew John).

In act one, director Des McAnuff is a master general who makes sense of all the converging plotlines and scene changes. Fortunately, Weller's book gives him more opportunity for nuance in the pensive second act.

Teresa Negroponte's costumes reflect the faded grandeur of a doomed aristocracy, as well as the grit of war. And Kelly Devine's vibrant choreography incorporates traditional Russian dancing without ever resorting to pastiche.

Sets, Michael Scott Mitchell; costumes, Teresa Negroponte; lighting Damien Cooper; sound, Michael Waters; music direction, Kellie Dickerson; music supervisor, Eric Stern; choreographer, Kelly Devine. Opened, reviewed Feb 19, 2011. Runs through April 2. Running time: 2 HOURS, 50 MIN.

With: Johanna Allen, Gavin D. Andrew, Anton Berezin, Caitlin Berry, Tony Cogin, Mischana Dellora Cornish, Tony Farrell, Natalie Gamsu, Todd Goddard, Frank Hansen, Glenn Hill, Luke, Joslin, Todd Keys, Elise McCann, Kathleen Moore, Shaun Murphy, Chris Scalzo, Stephanie Silcock, Annie Stanford, Jamie Ward, Belinda Wollaston


Queensland Sunday Telegraph:

Creating any new musical is a huge undertaking but adapting a novel as epic as Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago is especially challenging.

Famously made into the 1965 Oscar-winning film, Doctor Zhivago embraces history, politics and love in a sweeping Russian saga of war and revolution.

Putting all that drama to music without trivialising it is no mean feat - but it can be done, with Les Mis aacrables an obvious example. Doctor Zhivago is not in that league but with its richly melodic, Russian-flavoured score, it has the potential to soar, given further development.

Michael Weller has made some changes for the sake of economy and drama but his script is essentially faithful to Pasternak's novel, and unfolds with admirable clarity.

The powerful opening number Two Worlds cleverly and concisely sets up the political situation and introduces us to the central protagonists, Yuri Zhivago and Lara.

>From there the show shifts between Moscow and the country and to various battlefields. Director Des McAnuff keeps the story moving quickly and clearly but in act one, in particular, the action unfolds without a great deal of light and shade.

Lucy Simon's music is beautiful, varied and theatrically powerful; it lingers long in your mind. However, the script and the lyrics by Michael Korie and Amy Powers are often too prosaic for the epic score and lack Pasternak's poetic lyricism. The dialogue at times verges on corny and there
is room for deeper characterisation, particularly of Lara. Michael Scott-Mitchell's set and Teresa Negroponte's costumes are very effective, for the most part, and Damien Cooper's lighting beautifully wrought.

In the title role, Anthony Warlow is in commanding form.

His singing is superlative and he does a wonderful job of conveying the doctor-poet's journey from bright, sensitive young man, to husband torn between his love for two women, to prematurely ageing man, wearied by war,
deprivation and heartache.

Always a charismatic performer, his star quality shines brightly here. Lucy Maunder is a quietly alluring Lara. She sings with lush, creamy beauty and her duets with Warlow are gorgeous.

Martin Crewes is superb as Pasha Antipov, the idealistic student who marries Lara and morphs into the ruthless, revolutionary Strelnikov, the show's most interesting character because of his dramatic transformation and internal dilemma.

His reaction to Zhivago's poem about Lara is one of the show's most moving moments.

There are also strong performances from Bartholomew John as the bourgeois magistrate Komarovsky who seduces the young Lara, Taneel Van Zyl as Zhivago's wife Tonia, and Peter Carroll as Tonia's father, with impressive
work from the entire ensemble.

Doctor Zhivago already has much to recommend it and audiences certainly seem to be embracing it. As yet, it doesn't have enough of the passion that infuses Pasternak's novel, however, with further work it could become something special.