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There’s music in the air at Boston’s three major mid-size theaters, but don’t expect “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'.” WBUR critic-at-large Ed Siegel offers his take.
There’s a musical adaptation of “Adding Machine,” a 1923 play about a man who kills his boss after losing his job. Another, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” is about singer Billie Holiday's last, grim days. The third, "Opus," is about the rancorous relationships among members of a string quartet.
This all says more about the variety of musicals around today and the ability of Boston’s mid-size theaters to stage them.
Elmer Rice’s "Adding Machine” is a strange, expressionistic work about a man, Mr. Zero, in a loveless marriage who is looking forward to a promotion on his 25th anniversary and instead gets a pink slip. Any relationship to today’s economic situation is purely intentional.
The SpeakEasy Stage Company has been on a roll the past few years and “Adding Machine” is no exception. Think of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” mixed with the eclecticism of Jeanine Tesori’s music in “Caroline, or Change” and you get some idea of how Joshua Schmidt has brought Rice’s story to life — with the help of confident staging by Paul Melone and excellent cast performances led by Brendan McNab and Amelia Broome.
Speaking of “Caroline, or Change,” Jacqui Parker thrilled Boston audiences with her performance as the maid in Tony Kushner’s story, so when the Lyric Stage Company announced that Spiro Veloudos would be directing her in "Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” it sounded like a winner on the face of it.
Lanie Robertson’s play with music is about one of Holiday’s last performances. Her life was a mess. Her voice wasn’t anywhere near as strong as it had been, but her phrasing and her ability to turn the tragic drug-infested elements of her life into art was maybe never greater. Unfortunately, Parker doesn’t capture that transcendent quality at all. I’ve seen this piece before, with a singer named Gail Nelson, and it wasn’t nearly as listless and depressive as this one.
Boston’s mid-size theaters have made enormous strides over the last 10 years and there are two things they do particularly well: Musicals, like “Adding Machine,” and very strong stagings of plays that have been done in New York and elsewhere, like Michael Hollinger’s “Opus.”
It’s not the greatest play in the world. I wish it had spent more time on what it is about the classical quartets, such as Beethoven’s Opus 131, that drives people to the emotional extremes we see in the play, or a little bit more on the artistic compromises we see taking place. But Michael Hollinger does a thoughtful, entertaining job dissecting how the internal dynamics of the group play out — in more ways than one. The acting and Jim Petosa’s direction are superb.
- SpeakEasy Stage Company’s “Adding Machine: A Musical” appears at the Boston Center for the Arts through April 10.
- “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” appears at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through April 24.
- The New Repertory Theatre’s “Opus” is at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown through April 17.
This program aired on April 5, 2010.
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