Shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre

Fahrenheit 451

Book by Ray Bradbury
Lyrics by Georgia Bogardus Holof
Music By David Mettee
Directed by Charles Geyer
Musical director Eric Rausch
Wings Theatre Company
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Maya T. Amis

Its message about the dangers of censorship as relevant now as when it was written decades ago, Ray Bradbury's seminal science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451 has been adapted to film by François Truffaut (a new Mel Gibson movie is also apparently in the works). The musical version which recently had its New York premiere did the book justice, with a fine score and lyrics, first-rate acting and direction, and a production which spun some gold out of low-budget straw. Set in a future when all books are banned for their dangerous ideas, and firemen enforce the prohibition by burning them, Fahrenheit 451 is about a fireman (Miles Wallace) who begins to question the status quo. His imagination is stimulated by a young woman who has illegally been encouraged to read. Wallace made real the fireman's struggle as his eyes open to the problems of his world. Heather Spore, as the wise child/woman who enlightens him, had an ethereal quality and lovely singing voice that were perfect for the part. Her restraint and dignity were just right for a part that could have become saccharine had it been played as a cute little girl. Her philosopher grandfather was affectingly portrayed by Chuck McMahon, while the villainous but conflicted fire chief was given true menace by Mike Travis Polenski. Melisa Klausner, as a martyred bibliophile, lent conviction and a rich voice to a love song to books. Also in the excellent ensemble were: Michael Andersson, Jim Andralis, Elizabeth Bianchi, Cathleen Charleson, Kerrin Cuffe, Michael Garden, Brad George, Eric Hunsley, Rachel Lu, Madalyn McKay, Ericka Pazcoguin, David Petrolle, Steven Vega and Allison Winn.

Music and lyrics are good, with sufficient variety to maintain interest, and the adaptation of a sometimes complex story to the musical form is excellent. The songs fit into the piece as a whole, consistently serving a function rather than simply being there. The only minor problem was a slight vagueness about the passage of time, something that could be ameliorated easily.

Director Charles Geyer kept the show in near-constant motion, while three A-frame ladders on a bare stage became everything from a house to a fire engine, and the large ensemble sometimes surrounded the entire theatre. Remarkably complex lighting (Thomas Joseph Pasquenza) and sound effects contributed to the illusion that this was a far larger production. The simple costumes (Ericka Pazcoguin and Marou Gedyminis) helped to identify some of the characters, important in an ensemble production where several actors played multiple characters. Musical accompaniment was a single piano, but its energy and the often staccato arrangements lent an appropriate urgency to the music.

This is a musical for readers, dreamers, and believers in freedom of all sorts. Some of the best songs evoke the magic of books, of the visions and ideas that fill the mind and nourish the soul. Its dire warnings about the slippery slope of censorship don't seem far-fetched enough for comfort.

Box Score:
Writing 2
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 2
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 2
Copyright 1997 Maya T. Amis

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