February House -- Too Much Going On
By Bob and Karen Isaacs
KAREN: Long Wharf is presenting a new musical February House that is on its way to off-Broadway in May. This is a co-production with the New York’s Public Theater and is based on both a book and a true situation.
Bob and I have similar views on this piece, though he couldn’t make it into the studio to share them with you.
February House is an ambitious chamber style musical -- perhaps it is too ambitious. We felt the authors tried to tackle too many subjects.
Just as World War II was breaking out, the former editor of Vanity Fair rents a dilapidated house in Brooklyn Heights. He invites the famous British poet W.H. Auden to move in, as well as the newly acclaimed writer Carson McCullers, the British composer Benjamin Britten, the tenor Peter Pears, and later Gypsy Rose Lee. The goal was to form an artist utopia. All except Auden and George Davis, the editor -- are at the beginning of their careers.
So what happens -- a lot and very little. Some discussion about art, a lot of drinking and smoking, a lot of romance -- between Auden and his newest protege, between Britten and Pears, between McCuller and her estranged husband and later another tenant Erika Mann. Conflicts over living conditions, money -- most of them don’t have any and Gypsy Rose Lee foots most of the bills while she works on her first novel -- a mystery that becomes a best seller. Some outbursts about all of the above. And some guilt from the three Brits (Auden, Britten, and Pears) about not sharing the blitz with their fellow Londoners.
What about the music? The music and lyrics are by Gabriel Kahane -- some of it is tuneful and other times it seems overly influenced by Stephen Sondheim at his most unmelodic. Gypsy Rose Lee’s only song is too reminiscent of the Rodgers and Hart famous number about her -- Zip.
The performances are excellent -- we enjoyed Stanley Bahorek and Ken Barnett as Britten and Pears and Kacie Sheik as Gypsy.
So did we love it? No -- first of all this is a show that the authors were afraid to end. It seemed to go on and on -- the second act just seemed tedious. The show needs tightening and focus. And do we really need to know so much about the petty jealousy and sex status of all involved? Do we care that Carson McCullers experiments with Erika?
If you are fascinated by literary figures and chamber musicals, you will enjoy this. It is at Long Wharf’s stage 2 through March 18. It opens in New York on May 8.
This review aired on WNHU-88.7 and www.wnhu.net.