Arts and Entertainment Editor
Maybe the most difficult endeavor in theater is creating a "dramatic" musical; to some, the idea itself is impossible to grasp. Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult tasks is to follow a star in a starring role.
In the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s current production of "Far From Heaven," four-time Tony Award nominee Kelli O’Hara is more than up to the task of painting a memorable portrait of Cathy Whitaker, the fatally naïve 1950s Connecticut housewife made memorable by Julianne Moore in the 2002 film.
To a somewhat less conclusive degree, the creative team behind the musical adaptation of the film succeed in their endeavor as well -- but, then again, they must know, as we must understand, that the WTF production is a "preview production" of a planned off Broadway-bound production reportedly set to open at New York City’s Playwrights Horizons in the spring of 2013. O’Hara, also reportedly, will again star.
There is also no doubt that the Williamstown audience -- treated, too, to live musical accompaniment -- appreciated the effort by all.
"Far From Heaven, which opened on the WTF Main Stage on Saturday, after preview performances beginning on July 19, will continue through Sunday, July 29.
The musical adaptation of "Far From Heaven," certainly has a great team working on it, with book by Tony Award-winner Richard Greenberg, original score by the Tony nominated team of Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, and directed by Broadway veteran Michael Greif. The production is funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Playwrights Horizons for the development of new musicals in partnership with a regional theater.
O’Hara leads a deep, stellar acting team that includes Steven Pasquale, familiar for his role in television’s "Rescue Me," as the fatally torn husband Frank; Nancy Anderson as Eleanor Fine, Cathy’s friend who sees beyond the facade of suburban life and love; and Brandon Victor Dixon as the Raymond Deagan, whose kindness is only rivaled by his hand-and-hand journey down the naiveté road with Cathy.
For those of you who never saw the film, and it really makes no difference in the appreciation of the theater production, Cathy is the picture-perfect wife and mother in 1957 suburban Connecticut. The play opens with the falling leaves and the beautiful nostalgia of "Autumn in Connecticut." But, the true image of the play is seen in the early scene and when Cathy’s husband has a brush with the law and appears as the darkly-clad businessman in contrast to Cathy’s brightly dressed stylishness. As we all know, nostalgic memories are often far from true, let alone "Far From Heaven." The storyline is filled with the emptiness of lives that seem right, but are not because of secret longings and forbidden desires of people seeking riches, a better life for their children, or simply the freedom to love.
While the "feel" of the story seems dated, watching the story unfold is captivating if a little depressing. The feel of the production is perfect, however, thanks to a super team including Allen Moyer’s scenic design, Catherine Zuber’s costume design, a unique staging led by Judith Schoenfeld as the production stage manager.
O’Hara, it is undeniable, is reason enough to attend. Her performance as the "good" housewife who watches her ideal marriage and world destroyed, is near perfect. Pasquale’s guilt-ridden, fatally flawed husband is a glimpse of the powerful actor he could very soon become known as. Anderson is equally fine as Cathy’s best friend, Eleanor Fine -- her duet with O’Hara on the song "Cathy, I’m Your Friend," near the end of the first act, is maybe the musical and dramatic high point. Greif’s direction keeps everything moving but there is nothing he can do with some of the songs but let them play themselves out.
The bottom line is that there may be some tweaks to the production as it moves forward, but with O’Hara in the lead, the stellar creative team in full force, having "Far From Heaven" available in our backyard is a rare theater event for local audiences.
Contact K.D. Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org. "Far From Heaven" running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes, including one intermission. The Main Stage of the Williams College ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance is located at 1000 Main St. (Route 2). For tickets and information call 413-597-3400 or visit wtfestival.org.