Tam Mutu & Kelli
Barrett photo by Jason Bell
by Eugene Paul
In a huge, richly appointed – designer Paul Tazewell outdoes
himself and most other shows dressing his vast company -- unstinting production
encompassing the breadth of the famed Boris Pasternak novel through its
turbulent, painful years from 1903 to 1930, years of suffering and upheaval in
Russia when the Russian people could not imagine worse times and fates, the
shining thread of the love between Yurii Zhivago and Lara Guishar holds
together an epic story – and an audience’s hunger for the emotional
connection. That there’s a very large audience for epic tales told with music –
think Les Miserables, think Phantom of the Opera – was demonstrated by a roused
audience which gave the entire company and its stars their sincere vocal
It’s far from a simple story. Playwright Michael
Weller’s condensing of the 600 page Nobel winning novel still brings to the
stage two revolutions before 1917 in Russia and battle scenes from both, the
confusing fights between the Whites and the Reds, the partisans, and the
Revolutionaries against the Czarist regime, all tossing about the lives of our
characters trying to grasp what is happening. Yurii, (wonderful Tam Mutu) a
poet, becomes a doctor, marries Tonia Gromeko, has a child, goes to help the
bloodied, untrained forces as a doctor.
Throughout his life, he has written poetry
which has reached a large, starved for poems as well as food, population.
Lara (equally wonderful Kelli Barrett), the pretty daughter of a
dress maker whose lover, Viktor Komarovsky, (splendid Tom Hewitt) finds the
more enticing, cannot help herself. He is too powerful, too
experienced a lover. She tries to break from him, marries Pasha Antipov
(excellent Paul Alexander Nolan), a shy firebrand, shy as a lover, all
firebrand as a hater of aristocrats.
Paul Alexander Nolan as Pasha, Kelli Barrett, Tam Mutu and Lori
Lee Gayer photo by Matthew Murphy
When the rebels are routed by the Russian police, Pasha
disappears. Lara attempts to shoot Komarovsky. Yurii Zhivago determines to
meet her; they have a common enemy, Komarovsky, who has stolen the wealth and
inheritance of the Zhivago family.
Tom Hewitt as Victor Komarovsky photo by Jason Bell
Lara is arrested. Komarovsky has her set free. She flees
from him, goes to search for her husband, Pasha, will never return to Moscow.
She will settle back in her home town. Yurii and Lara part, but he cannot
forget her, and, of course, he sees her again when he moves his family out of
starvation in Moscow to his wife’s old country estate, now in ruins. And, as
they do in love stories, paths cross. But you expected that. Once Lara and
Yurii find themselves together, they cannot part. But – this is a staging of a
Russian novel, and the trials and tribulations are only beginning.
Tam Mutu & Kelli
Barrett photo by MathewMurphy
Playwright Weller puts most of this on the stage, and
more, and director McAnuff deploys his huge company among the many ingenious
stage settings devised by designer Michael Scott Mitchell making sweeping use
of the vast Broadway Theatre stage. Throughout, Lucy Simon’s music ranges from
ballroom to battle fields, all of it sonorous, some of it melodically
memorable, much of it in operatic recitatives, every bit of their scenes
together passionately, beautifully delivered by Tam Mutu and Kelli Barnett as
the star crossed lovers. Oh, for a hit song, just one. The producers have
imported Lara’s Theme from the movie and it feels both comfortably familiar,
which it is, and alien among the rest of the score, (although I do harbor some
hope for “Love Finds You” as a potential breakout.)
The show, despite lapses, is both moving and engrossing.
There is an audience for it. Whether it will survive depends on the marketing
forces that make these decisions. Will economics trump talent? There are shows
that have been running for years with less to offer.
Dr. Zhivago. At the Broadway Theatre, Broadway & 53rd
Tickets: $19.17-$199.00. 212-239-6200. 2 hrs, 50 min. Open run.