Do I hear a Waltz?
23 March 2014
Do I Hear A Waltz? may be the only musical in the American repertoire with a question mark in its title, but it is definitely the only musical to feature a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It was not a commercial success when it premiered, it does not showcase any of the three major creative particularly well, and it is rarely revived. Sondheim revised the work in recent years, having changed his mind about the suitability of the piece for being a musical. (Earlier, he had dismissed it as unsuitable)
After seeing the Charles Court production now playing at the Park Theatre (directed by John Savournin, musical direction by David Eaton and choreography by Damian Czarnecki) two questions arise.
The first is whether the titular question mark has an importance beyond the phrase in which it is used? In other words, is this a “musical” or something else? Few of the songs progress either plot or understanding of character, something which is unusual for both Rodgers (at least at that point in his career) and Sondheim. But it’s not really a Revue and nor is it a Cabaret – its neither one thing nor the other and the fact that the book, score and lyrics don’t seem to really gel adds to that sense of disclocation.
It’s an intimate play with music. And it focuses on culture clash (American versus Italian), infidelity and the consequences of prejudgment and miscommunication.
The second question is: Why?
Why did these creative think they could produce this intricate, difficult and challenging musical? Why did they think it could work with a cast comprised entirely of people who were not able to meet the acting demands of the piece? Why did they think that a Rodgers score could be effectively conveyed with one piano (in curious condition and played like it was in an hotel bar) and percussion and no strings? Why did they think that a good looking Italian man from Venice could be played by a redhead? Why did they think that singing was not a central and desirable skill for anyone they cast, not just to sing notes, but to sing in a style that suited the lyrics and in a way that made the lyrics comprehensible? Why did they think that a complex song about marriage, infidelity and compromise should be presented as a jaunty toe-tapping number? Why did they think the scene preceding said jaunty tune should be played like the worst example of cod domestic drama, thereby making the song, as performed here, incomprehensible? Why did they think it was possible to pull off a revival of this musical without having a clear vision about why and how it was to be presented? Why is this happening?
So many Whys…
This revival is notable for one thing: it does raise, but not answer, this question – is Do I Hear A Waltz? capable of successful revival?
Despite this production, the answer seems to be “Yes”.
The material is quirky, interesting and capable of being, if performed and directed by people with genuine skill and ideas, a good time in the theatre. It needs care lavished on every aspect of it.
Alas, here, care was in very short supply.