The former was, eh, not so hot:
For years now, Tom Jones, whose list of credits includes the book and lyrics for “The Fantasticks,” has had his eye on “Harold and Maude,” the 1971 cult movie about a 20-year-old suicidal misfit who falls hard for a fey 80-year-old widow. When Harvey Schmidt, his longtime collaborator, declined the challenge of writing music for so quirky a project, the undaunted Mr. Jones teamed up with a younger composer, Joseph Thalken. They brought the finished product to New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse, where “Harold and Maude: The Musical” is running through Feb. 6, with Estelle Parsons playing the part created in the film by Ruth Gordon.
Would that the fruits of Mr. Jones’ protracted labors were more satisfying. Alas, “Harold and Maude” doesn’t fly, in part because the redeeming peculiarities of the film, an all-you-need-is-love-love-love period piece, have been carefully watered down by Mr. Jones to accommodate easily ruffled suburban sensibilities. What’s left is a decorously brief fling between Harold and Maude that still fails to pass the eeuuww test, portrayed with a starry-eyed tweeness that made my teeth itch….
The latter was, somewhat to my surprise, really fine, if a bit odd in spots:
Mr. Fierstein, last seen on Broadway in “Hairspray,” isn’t an obvious candidate for the part of Tevye. Aside from not getting to wear a dress, he has to sing several demanding songs, and his voice, which sounds like a bullfrog stuck in a double bass, makes a decidedly odd impression in “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Sabbath Prayer.” (Believe it or not, he croaks some of his numbers in keys so low that the orchestra has to transpose them up to meet him in the middle.) Still, he more than makes up in comic prowess for what he lacks in vocal luster, and though he hasn’t combed all the “Hairspray” out of his intermittently flouncy mugging, Mr. Fierstein rises effortlessly–as well as believably–to “Fiddler”‘s not-infrequent moments of high drama….
No link, and there’s much, much more, including a review of a third show, Washington’s Arena Stage revival of Hallelujah, Baby! To see what you’re missing, buy a copy of today’s Journal (duh), or click here and get with the program.