Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Coram Boy: Did Critics Shout Hallelujah?

Coram Boy: Did Critics Shout Hallelujah?

Opening night was barely an hour underway for the Broadway version of British import Coram Boy, directed and designed by Melly Still, when reviews began posting. Are critics singing its praises?

Labeling it as "the theatrical equivalent of 'a good read,'" the Associated Press' Michael Kuchwara certainly is: "There is a dreamlike quality to Still's fluid, graceful staging. And like all potent dreams, her vision -- and that includes her overseeing of those celestial musical voices -- remains vivid long after the tumultuous events depicted in Coram Boy are over."

Proclaiming this a "triumphant production," The New York Sun's Eric Grode is positive: "Virtually devoid of even a glimmer of humor (shy of a few mugging adults set loose as little kids), let alone any distancing irony, Coram Boy seeks its satisfactions in the unapologetically feverish realm of melodrama....But at the risk of sounding like a skittish ad campaign, hellbent on finding a bright gloss on frequently somber subject matter, Coram Boy is suffused with a love of storytelling and a deep commitment to grabbing a willing audience by its throat. Like the composer at its periphery, Ms. Still and her enormously talented cast and crew have created a joyful, thunderous pageant that warrants a hallelujah."

Calling Coram Boy "Big and broad, for sure, (but) anything but deep," The New York Times' Charles Isherwood is less than enthusiastic: "Directed with a minimum of physical means and a fine measure of brisk invention by Melly Still, this huge production may stint on traditional scenery, but it is stuffed to the rafters with just about everything else....But I have to confess that Coram Boy, first produced at the National Theater in London in 2005, to much acclaim, inspired more dutiful appreciation than passionate excitement in this viewer....Hearing that joyous chorus from the 'Messiah' sung from a Broadway stage was a strange, spine-tingling pleasure, and one that I expect won’t be repeated anytime soon. (I don’t think we’ll be seeing a jukebox musical called 'Go for Baroque!' At least I hope not.) "

Noting how the show "arrives on Broadway with the stamp of quality and inflated expectations," David Rooney of Variety laments: "In these days of modest two-character, single-set dramas, that scope is undeniably impressive. Pity there's not a more persuasive play attached. Instead, this adaptation by Helen Edmundson of Jamila Gavin's novel is self-important staged literature....Onstage, this over-produced epic seems burdened by the shadow of the RSC's legendary The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, which it desperately wants to be, adding spiritual heft to its gritty plot with an ethereal dash of Angels in America."

Diametrically opposite Kuchwara and Grode, Clive Barnes of the New York Post offers a scathing one star review: "[A]s for a play...that requires a search, for rarely has so much stuff -- some of it grisly, even ghostly, and all of it dour -- produced so little....Absurdity chases absurdity in a not particularly well-acted melodrama. By no means an acceptable evening in the theater..."

Over at New York's Daily News, Joe Dziemianowicz takes issue with the tempo that proves: "frustrating in this intense but over-the-top production....I saw Coram Boy last year in London and was quite taken. It is still beautiful, but has lost some power and magic. It may be that the American cast, while good, doesn't measure up to their English counterparts. Restaging has also proved problematic."

With such widely divergent opinions, will this dark tale prove to be a dark horse at both the box office and the Tony nominations? We'll know the answers very soon.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Coram Boy: Face-To-Face With Opening Night (May 2, 2007)

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At 03 May, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Steve- one correction- the NY Times review was in fact Charles Isherwood.

At 03 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

I do appreciate the correction (I get so used to Brantley's reviews that I forget that Isherwood provides a critique every now and then to Broadway fare). The story has been corrected. Thank you!

At 04 May, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just discovered your blog, Steve. I'll be checking it regularly. Any idea if Clive Barnes actually saw the show? I ask, since his plot synopsis is verbatim from the puzzlingly incomplete one on, and from his conclusion that Alexander was studying music at the Coram Hospital, not the Gloucester Cathedral.

At 04 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Dear Anonymous: Welcome to SOB! Glad you found me.

Interesting question, but one would have to assume that Mr. Barnes would not be allowed to phone it in.


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