we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable
categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable
instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical
rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response
of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous.
****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied.
* : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this
is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating
system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation
of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt,
and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious
in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content,
intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now?
Look, at least we tried.
>>>>>DELIVER US TO LIBERTY
to a wannabe musical? The story may be engaging, the choreography excellent,
the set fabulous, but the music is just a lame excuse to set every sentence
to a tune. Personally, I am fed up with these half-baked attempts. It
was a joy therefore to witness JUDAH BEN-HUR, a musical that features
many beautifully wrought songs.
David M. Sanborn and his mother Ellen spun memorable melodies such as
'I Remember You', 'Now that I Have Found You' and 'Finally Free'. I find
it especially rewarding when every element is scrupulously conceived and
put together. After all, how long can one excuse anything and everything
in the name of good fun (unless you are talking about 'Mama Mia')? Particularly
noteworthy was the irreverent 'Do as the Romans Do' infused with big-band
swing sensibility complete with a dash of jitterbug in the movement department.
This number recalls the comedic genre-switches of Disney animated musicals
(and it should be pointed out that Disney is not always synonymous with
musical weaves the thematic threads of Lee Wallace's novel 'Ben-Hur' refreshingly
enough to hold its own against the more famous movie epic of the same
The musical weaves the thematic threads of Lee Wallace's novel 'Ben-Hur'
refreshingly enough to hold its own against the more famous movie epic
of the same name. For one, the love between Judah and Esther has a bit
more humour and a lot less angst. The stage version features an almost
ditzy post-pubescent Esther compared to the simmering, penetrating-line-by-the-minute
celluloid Esther. For another, the Messianic anticipation and realisation
in the person of Christ Jesus was made more pointed in the musical. The
Son of God was demystified by being changed from the quiet, ethereal personage
of the film into a gregarious, warm and wise Son of Man.
Fleshing out the themes was a cast of uniform ability. Of course, David
M. Sanborn was especially at ease playing the title character since he
wrote nearly half the musical! The actors danced and sang amidst a set
ingeniously designed by Sean Cavanagh. Conceived as a primary set composed
of façades, columns and stairways that spun on a huge turntable,
this construction enabled the audience to follow the action through and
around walls, giving the production a distinctive outside-inside perspective.
On a side note, there was something about the way the actors pushed the
sets into place that evoked the Israel of the play's past Egyptian slavery
and present Roman oppression.
With diffused lighting, lighting designer J. T. Moore seemed to opt for
a dream-like feel. Even for exuberant scenes such as 'Dawn is Finally
Breaking', the light was kept a few notches below day-brightness. While
the restraint in lighting appeared to serve some purpose, the same cannot
be said for the sound. Majestic and emotionally high numbers such as 'Glory
in the Highest' would have soared with stronger projection. Likewise,
'Do as the Romans Do' would have realised itself as a high-gear romp if
the amplification was nudged a few levels higher.
Apart from these minor faults, the musical left a warm impression and
seems ready for Broadway. It is just a sheer waste that it played to such
small audiences. Go watch it before it finishes its run!