Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Gonna Fly Now

August 03, 2008

Sabrina Sloan, Rende Rae Norman and Eileen T'Kaye
Photo: Ed Krieger/Boston Court Theater 2008

A lesson for the new century – Max Bialystock’s downfall is not the result simply of unbridled ambition but of poor execution. In Mel Brooks’ The Producers he famously stages the worst musical imaginable in the hopes of guaranteeing a flop—and his success. But things go awry when he overshoots his mark, “Springtime for Hitler” becomes a comic hit. If he wanted to ensure a financially profitable flop, he might have wanted to aim lower, say with Anton Chekhov instead. Sure it may seem that the Russian’s plays scream out for musical adaptations, but they are not as easy as you might think.

Take Gulls, the world premiere musical currently on stage at The Theater at Boston Court. With book and lyrics by Nick Salamone and music by Maury McIntyre, the adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull boldly takes a play that is thorny to begin with and replants it in 1959. A gutsy move to be sure, but more so when one considers the many transpositions and reassignments that are needed to keep this boat moving. Though to be fair, if Chekhov were writing today the interracial-gay-love-affair-between-two-US-Navy-men-during-WWII subplot might well have made the final cut of the original. Oh yes there is a lot here to chew on and, after about three hours, one’s jaws are achingly tired. But at least there is a happy ending. (Though somehow not for the gay couple, but isn't that always the way in the theater?)

The music itself is jazz-influenced and often quite catchy. There are some great numbers, especially for Rendé Rae Norman who stars as the pushy actress-mother Irenie Bennett. The whole piece works not unlike a Handel opera where all of the 9 major characters get their own arias and moments to shine in each act. The production is set on a single New York City rooftop and as is typical for Boston Court it appears that no expense was spared on the production relative to the theater's small size. That’s true of the cast as well, which features the likes of such talents as Clinton Derricks-Carroll who fills an essentially unnecessary narrator role with some of the evening's liveliest moments. The ingenue role is occupied quite strikingly by Sabrina Sloan, an ex-American Idol finalist and a darn good vocalist. Director Jessica Kubzansky keeps everyone moving, which is no small task given the overly involved and complicated machinery of the story and a rather large cast.

But all is not well for a work that seems both overly explained and hopelessly confusing at the same time. So in an A for effort world, Gulls might soar, but here on earth, we are left to wonder and hope that somewhere, someone is making a killing off of this rather reaching failure.

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