Musicals about artists seem to be in vogue; witness The Embracers earlier this season (about the early 20th-century French artist Henri Gaudier) and a seemingly endless barrage of Sunday in the Park with George revivals (alas, none in New York).
Now comes Robert Mitchell's Vincent, an ambitious, chaotic, and untidy version of the life of Vincent Van Gogh, who himself seems to be enjoying a theatrical vogue, with the recent British hit Vincent in Brixton poised to jump across the pond in a matter of weeks.
Mitchell's work owes a huge debt to Sondheim's Sunday..., but not in any constructive or positive way. Mitchell has crammed his musical with far too many characters and situations to make it the focused, concentrated, and intense story it needs to be, and while his score has some moving moments, there are hardly any melodies floating above the portentous repeating chords or swirling underscoring to engage the listener in any meaningful way. What melody there is, oddly enough, is lifted from the more melodic moments of Sondheim's 1984 Sunday... score. ("Hello, Paul," an absurdly homoerotic love song Van Gogh sings to Gauguin, is a direct steal of the musical phrasing of "Hello, George, where did you go, George?") Nothing lingers, nothing resonates, and what is left is the impression of many moments that never coalesce into one organic, heart-breaking whole.
Judith Fredericks's flaccid direction only exacerbated the situation -- stop-and-start staging interrupted the flow of the piece; the vast (by OOB standards) stage of the Wings Theatre was exploited for intimate scenes, while moments that could have used that space to make their points were crammed into small side stages or into the aisles. For a piece that owes its raison d'être to the creation of a new form of artistic expression, there were precious few stage pictures worthy of the subject; like the writing, everything was lip service. In addition, the performers were encouraged to go over the top in ways that suggested amateur night at the Moulin Rouge; only Paul Woodson, as Vincent, John Wilmes as Gauguin, and Mark Campbell managed to make the style work for themselves; particularly Campbell, who was rather elegant as Van Gogh's brother Theo. And as hard-working as Woodson was, even he couldn't make Van Gogh's self-mutilation (presented here as a reaction to Gauguin's rejection of Vincent's declaration of romantic love) come across as anything more than just another silly, anti-climactic moment in an evening full of silly, anti-climactic moments.
The costumes, by Laura Frecon, were gorgeous; Bill Wood's blueish set, a series of panels that mimicked the titular artist's spiraling brush strokes, attempted too much and achieved too little, while Cindy Shumsey's lighting was rather monochromatic and cold. Bobby Araujo was credited with choreography, but there was little evidence that he did very much, while Paul Johnson provided solid support as musical director.
(Also featuring Sarah Marvel Bleasdale; James Gilchrist; Daniel Gurvich; Walter Hartman; Lynne Henderson; Charles Karel; Mara Kelley; James LaRosa; Sarah Lilley; James Murphy; Ian Rhodes; Nathan Lee Scherich; Jodie Trappe; Martin Vasquez.)
Book: 0 Lyrics:1 Music: 1
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Copyright 2003 Doug DeVita