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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Review- Triumph of Love (Astoria Performing Arts Center)

The Fab Marquee review by David Stallings.

Classic comedies often lend themselves to musical adaptations. Kiss Me Kate is Taming of the Shrew, West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet, and there have been numerous interpretations of The Importance of Being Earnest. In 1997, Jeffrey Stock, Susan Birkenhead, and James Magruder undertook the classic Maurivaux farce, Triumph of Love, to lukewarm response at best. Now, more than ten years later, the Astoria Performing Arts Center has brought the musical back to New York for the first time since that short-lived production. Unfortunately, this production proves that even the best talent cannot save a misguided text and unmelodic score.

Abby Baum as Princess Leonide &
Tripp Pettigrew as Agis

Maurivaux’s play follows the young Princess Leonide (Abby Baum), who has fallen in love with a young man, Agis (Tripp Pettigrew). Agis is sequestered in a garden by his Aunt Hesione (Erika Amato) and Uncle Hermocrates (Richard Rice Alan) and forced to live without love. The two philosophers believe that a studious life led by the mind outweighs a life led by emotion. Thus, the weaker sex is banned from the garden so that Agis cannot fall prey to temptation. Princess Leonide disguises herself as a man and enters the garden to much mishap—seducing not only Agis but his aunt and uncle as well. The play is reminiscent of As You Like It and Leonide reminds audiences of Rosalind as she fights for love. In fact, this piece seems at times to be even more progressive as Leonide’s arguments overpower the aged Hermocrates.

The musical takes this clever and well-written classic and bares it down to a weak whimper. A musical at its best is a series of songs linked together by scenes. The scenes should be as well developed as any normal play. The only difference is that when the characters are filled with emotion, they can express themselves in no other way but song. Triumph of Love does not have scenes, but links tunes together with five to ten rushed lines that quickly further the plot. The tunes are not even real songs, but are recitatives. Recitatives are used in opera and are unmelodic sung phrases used to further plot rather than using spoken phrase. After over an hour of this odd music, the audience is finally granted one song, “Serenity”. The song comes too late and as beautiful as it is, cannot save the useless score. Equally as disconcerting is the thin book, which is filled with obnoxious quips and double entendres that have nothing to do with the wit of the original.

That being said, the ensemble collected by the Astoria Performing Arts Center is extremely talented. As Princess Leonide and her many disguises, Abby Baum is quite charming. Ms. Baum’s voice is impressive and well suited for contemporary musical theater. As the philosophical Hesione, Erika Amato steals the show. Originally a vehicle for Betty Buckley, Hesione is the most developed character in the adaptation. Amato steps up to the challenge well and sings “Serenity” so powerfully that you forget what show you are in for a moment. As the stoic Agis, Tripp Pettigrew, is endearing.

Erika Amato as Hesione.

Brian Swasey’s direction does little to salvage the wrecked text. Swasey has staged his actors to make the same crosses across the stage in almost every musical number. The same pattern was used so often that it seemed monotonous after a while. The set design by Michael P. Kramer was inventive and successfully took us to different parts of the sterile garden. Adam Coffia’s period costumes are delightfully colorful. Erik J. Michael’s light design was inconsistent. It was obvious that there was only one spot available. During duets, one actor was chosen to be highlighted while the other had to sing without light. The general wash was filled with so many gobos resembling foliage, that without the spot no one was truly lit.

It is rare that one sees a play and cannot find a weak link in the cast. The Astoria Arts Center should be commended for bringing such talent together. Certainly a good group, and hopefully the future will hold better material for them.
Astoria Performing Arts Center presents
Triumph of Love
April 25-May 11, 2008 (Thu-Sat @8pm; Sun @6pm)
The Broccoli Theatre

Tickets $15 advance purchase, and $18 at the door. For ticket purchase visit TDF Vouchers accepted.

The Broccoli Theatre | Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens, 21-12 30th Road, Astoria | Queens.

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