Shorn of strength


Book/lyrics by Robin Brownfield
Music by Ken Kurland
Directed by Seth Duerr
Musical direction by Les Horan
Non-union production (closed)
Midtown International Theatre Festival
WorkShop Theatre Co./Mainstage
Review by Seth Bisen-Hersh

Delilah tells the biblical story of Samson and Delilah from Delilah's viewpoint. It was mostly sung through (and sadly, mostly sung poorly). The show meandered, dragged, and was very confusing at times; the music, though, is decent, if repetitive, and some of the cast managed to shine through the mundane material.

It was quite hard to follow the story. There is a war going on between the Israelites and the Philistines. There is a love square, where Delilah marries Ya'ir, but then he gets killed by Samson. And somehow Samson's wife, Zuleika, gets tortured and murdered. Then, even though she hated him before, Delilah and Samson end up getting together, but fate tears them apart.

Sound confusing? With hardly any book, the show relies on the lyrics to tell the story. Unfortunately, the lyrics range from banal to painful. There is no consistent rhyme, rhythm, or meter for most of the show. Also, the songs rarely say anything, and few are even songs (sometimes someone will just have four lines of musical phrase -- and it never comes back, as a motif would in opera). None of the motivations for any of the characters are clear in the lyrics (or at all). Furthermore, the show has very little humor, which is most necessary in any melodrama to liven up the story. Finally, the moral of the show, about not killing each other, comes completely out of left field.

The redeeming factor of the show is the score. There are no mis-stressed syllables; there are pleasant melodies. The only problem is its lack of variety, memorability, and commonly used harmonies. Speaking of harmony, there was very little in the singing, which could have given much needed life to some of the chorus songs. The pianist/ musical director, Les Horan, was really quite good. Playing off lead sheets, he improvised intricate piano parts, as well as some nonstandard arpeggios. Adel Ismael backed him on a drum machine, which was enjoyable and provided some needed percussive timbre to the score.

Some of the actors needed serious vocal training. However, some gave brilliant performances, overcoming the material. In the title role, Uzo Aduba showed strength. Her acting was solid and grounded; her singing was both powerful and pretty at different times. In smaller roles, Ann Weisbecker as Zuleika and Jason Strong as Manoah stood out. They delivered their solo lines with skill and gusto.

Technically, the show was fairly bare. The direction, by Seth Duerr (also in the show and listed as a writer of additional material), was fluid -- the staging used the small stage well. The pacing was fine for the first hour, but then the show got befuddled and long-winded.

It is a bad sign when almost every song ends without applause (only one of Delilah's numbers received any accolades from the audience --and because of the performance, not because of the song itself). Sadly not even her performance could save this show -- perhaps some classes in playwriting and lyric writing could.

Box Score:

Book/lyrics: 0; Music: 1
Directing: 1
Performing: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2004 Seth Bisen-Hersh