Unspeakable sins

Dorian Gray

Book by Allan Rieser & Don Price
Lyrics by Allan Rieser
Music by Gary Levinson
Directed by Don Price
Judith Anderson Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by John Michael Koroly

Oscar Wilde being such a creature of the theatre, it would seem inevitable that The Picture of Dorian Gray, his 1891 novel (and sole venture into that art form), should find its way to the stage. It has been dramatized many times, including a superb version by John Osborne, but this may be the very first time it's been musicalized.

In Dorian Gray, the team of Allan Rieser, Don Price, and Gary David Levinson have done a reasonably effective job of finding a musical vocabulary apposite to the novel's themes of moral decay and spiritual license. Summarily stated, the plot follows the title character along a downward spiral into abject spiritual rot, up to and including murder. The supernatural spin put on this by Wilde is to have a portrait done of Gray in his prime grow ever more wretchedly disfigured and aged while Gray himself remains outwardly youthful and beautiful, a mockery of his inner self.

The rather Lloyd Webberish, pop-operatic nature of much of the score, mixing in as it does some lovely flashes of Romanticist fervor, certainly wouldn't seem out of place on a Broadway stage in a vehicle much like Phantom or Les Mis. Indeed this very slickness makes the score highly listenable in much the same way as those shows. It is hampered, though, in its ability to drive the work dramatically by its too frequent vamping of a theme. But the book and lyrics are, for the most part, intelligently sculpted, with a successful wedding of Wilde's art nouveau idiom to a contemporary musical theatre format.

The whole production was undercut, though, by some crucial miscasting. In the title role, Brian Duguay was simply too insubstantial a presence to evoke the moral horror at the heart or the text. Gray should burn with the same ``hard, gem-like flame'' that Wilde sought to have at the marrow of his work. Duguay was too often given to preening, though he could emote inner pain quite well. Also, Laura Stanczyk never rose above stock ingenue readings in her important role as one of Gray's victims. Gerrianne Raphael, though, had a fun, earthy, music-hall quality in a comic-relief part. And Chris Weikel was quite remarkable as Lord Wotton, being both in fine voice and galvanizing the role with an unforced flamboyance as well as a dramatic gravitas. Any future producer of this show should seriously consider moving Weikel up to the title role.

Director Price had a good sense of flow, yet never quite seemed to conquer the challenge of a small playing space. Sal Perrotta's set design was nevertheless impressive in its facility to establish a Victorian studio, a backstage dressing room, a dangerous London street, or a box at a theatre. (A cheesy look sometimes crept in, however.) Mary Nemecek Peterson's costumes were opulent, with a good eye for period detail. Kimo James's lighting was often a bit too melodramatic and obvious in its atmospheric effects.

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 1
Acting 1
Set 1
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 0
Copyright 1996 John Michael Koroly

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