Wing's Theatre's production of Vincent, by Robert Mitchell, proved to be an interesting attempt to musicalize the disparate events of the illustrious artist's life.
The show proceeded at a frenetic and dizzying pace. Although audience members with ADD might have been gladdened by the frequent change of scene, those who liked to take time getting to know the characters and settling into the world of the show had a tougher time.
The play began somewhere in van Gogh (Paul Woodson)'s early adulthood -- when exactly was never clearly or adequately defined. But the audience learned surprisingly that young Vincent was studying to be a preacher. A nanosecond later the audience saw Vincent renouncing the pulpit in favor of living among an impoverished mining community. (In a scene strangely reminiscent of Floyd Collins, van Gogh witnesses a horrible mining accident.) And so it continued -- in a myriad of mostly disconnected scenes, the audience watched Van Gogh gradually decay before their very eyes. They stared as the poor young artist fell strangely in love with his first cousin; they wincingly watched him fail as a young gallery clerk. They fidgeted in their seats as his brother, Theo (Erik Schark), vowed to support the eccentric artist. They watched Vincent fall in love, yet again, with Sien (Cristin J. Hubbard), a young prostitute, and her child. And finally they followed van Gogh to Paris, where he made good company with his fellow painters (as well as with absinthe); and they observed his last days, as he lived with Gauguin and destroyed his life.
Although interesting tidbits about the life of van Gogh are presented, the show couldn't possibly paint (no pun intended) an accurate portrait of the master's highly complex life and relationships. With the exception of the protagonist, characters are presented as caricatures instead of fully fleshed-out human beings. One scene has very little connection to the next, and they rarely reference each other. Even the main through-line of Vincent's connection with his brother isn't ever fully articulated or explored.
On the other hand, Robert Mitchell's musical compositions are excellent. He's at his best when composing large, beautifully harmonic ensemble pieces and dissonant solos. The lyrics are another story. Predictable perfect rhymes are consistently telegraphed throughout the musical. Mr. Mitchell's musical genius would perhaps be better served by collaborating with a more experienced lyricist.
That being said, director Sturgis Warner did a marvelous job. Using no other set but nine stools (and his own imagination), Sturgis worked magic on stage. Actors were onstage the whole time and portrayed not only an average of six characters each, but also inanimate objects and effects. Likewise, the design team did a splendid job. Costumes were unobtrusive yet beautiful, and the lighting (Charles Foster) was nothing short of elegant.
Most notable was Paul Woodson's portrayal of Vincent. With a voice and physique worthy of Jean Valjean, Woodson created miracles onstage. He entranced the audience with his energy and intensity. Likewise, the other members of the cast did a terrific job. One could see how hard the actors worked -- and it truly paid off.
Vincent was a brave effort. Wings Theatre should be thanked for continuing to take risks by putting on musicals, being willing to premiere original work and doing a great service to the theatre-going community.
Book: 1/Lyrics: 1/Music: 2
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Copyright 2004 Dawn Zahra