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At least one of the musicals that I see on Broadway each season leaves me shaking my head and muttering “What were they thinking?” on the way out of the theater. “Doctor Zhivago,” which purports to be adapted from Boris Pasternak’s 1957 novel of Russian life before and after the October Revolution but in fact appears to be based on David Lean’s 1965 film version of the book, is the worst kind of case in point. No doubt the creators thought it more respectable to claim direct descent from the book, but when you bill such a show as “one of the most romantic stories of all time,” you’re probably not much concerned with suggesting the tone and texture of a serious novel, least of all one that no less a critical heavyweight than Edmund Wilson declared to be “one of the great events in man’s literary and moral history.” Not so the stage version of “Doctor Zhivago,” a slow-paced commodity musical suitable only for consumption by tone-deaf tweenagers.
Even in its present etiolated form, “Doctor Zhivago” is a tale told on the grandest possible scale, the kind to which the word “epic” is for once correctly applied. Such stories demand full operatic treatment, or at the bare minimum a pseudo-operatic score à la “Les Misérables.” Lucy Simon, best known as Carly’s sister and for “The Secret Garden,” simply doesn’t have that kind of equipment in her musical toolbox. Maurice Jarré’s “Somewhere, My Love,” the whiny theme song from the movie, has been interpolated into the first act, presumably so that the audience will know what show it’s seeing, but the other tunes are by Ms. Simon, and they are generically gooey in a way that will appeal to anyone who finds Andrew Lloyd Webber challenging….
Worst of all, though, is Michael Weller’s book, in which “Doctor Zhivago” is rewritten in the action-packed manner of a Classics Illustrated comic….
“Something Rotten!” is a Mel Brooks-style Elizabethan-era backstage spoof in which Nick Bottom (Brian d’Arcy James), a failed playwright, tries to get the drop on Will Shakespeare (Christian Borle) by paying a cracked soothsayer (Brad Oscar) to prophesy the Bard’s biggest unwritten success. Alas, the signals from the future are garbled, and the result is “Omelette: The Musical.” That’s not a bad premise for an old-fashioned variety-show sketch of the sort that Mr. Brooks used to write for Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, but Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick have blown it up to two and a half hours by inserting 15 mostly comic songs, none of whose lyrics is sharp enough to penetrate its target…
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To read my complete review of Doctor Zhivago, go here.
To read my complete review of Something Rotten!, go here.