History Theatre's latest is Paradise lost
In my mind, there is not wasted experience at the theater. There's always something you can observe, feel, or learn from attending a show.
Take This Side of Paradise, the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald musical that opened over the weekend at the History Theatre. It's an object lesson on how not to create a show.
If there's a misstep to be made, the show's creators and the History Theatre production make it. Stodgy construction? Check. Cliched, on-the-nose dialogue at every turn? Check. A score that disappears from the mind seconds after the song is done? Check. Leads without a spark of chemistry? Check. A show that seems absolutely disinterested?
The problems start with the book, created by playwright Will Pomerantz and composer/lyricist Nancy Harrow. It centers on Zelda looking back over her life while institutionalized in 1940. It's not the best of starts, but there could be potential in watching the older Zelda (Norah Long) wander through the key moments of her life.
The telling, however, is so conventional that it renders the frame absolutely useless. We follow her life in a straight line, from meeting Scott to their marriage to their rocky later years.
The events of her life -- of anyone's life -- don't necessarily follow in dramatic order. The play doesn't as much build to a climax as lurch from moment to moment, each one carrying about the same weight as the one before it.
Harrow's songs aren't necessarily bad -- I wouldn't mind giving them a second listen via the album she recorded a decade ago -- but they don't do the heavy lifting songs in this musical need to carry. Our only chance to really understand what's going on is through the songs, and they don't provide the lyrical heft or musical intensity to do that.
The flat dialogue doesn't help, and neither does the onstage energy, which mutes any of the heat and passion of the Fitzgeralds in a wet blanket. Zelda is played by Long and Kendall Anne Thompson, with both sharing scenes with Bradley Beahen as the famed author. The actors never give us what drew this couple together. There's plenty of shouting, but very little passion or intensity or chemistry.
Toss in a flat directing effort from Ron Peluso, and you have a show that is largely an exercise in tedium. I never felt anything for the main characters, I never got a sense of what life was like in the '20s in New York or what their time in France was like or what the emotional toil was on the pair when they were separated in later days. It's like a Cliff's Notes version of the Fitzgeralds' story -- and not even that satisfying.
IF YOU GO:
This Side of Paradise Through May 19, 2013 History Theatre 30 E. 10th St., St. Paul. $32-$40 For information and tickets, call 651.292.4323 or visit online.
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