by Alix Cohen
Dorian Gray (the well cast Brad DeLeone), has just returned to 19th Century London to claim his inheritance and is greatly uninformed about the world into which he’s stepped. Sensitive artist friend Basil Hallward (Topher Layton) has asked to paint a portrait of the beautiful young man. It becomes the best work he executes to date, imbued with a kind of spiritual power.
Under the influence of Halliward’s cynical acquaintance Lord Henry Wotton (Lee Cortopassi), Dorian conjectures that perhaps youth and beauty are, in fact, the most important things in life. He’d sell his soul if the painting aged instead of him.
Wotton (who should be both far more depraved and snobbish) takes Gray under his wing, leading the way to hedonism. One night, at a working class theater, his charge falls in love with sweet, innocent singer Sibyl Vane (Maura McColgan). Gray pursues her and makes promises. The evening he arrives with his friends to show the girl off, however, she does poorly on stage.
This version has Sybil distraught that her mother Amelia (Courtney Boches) has promised the girl to lascivious theater owner Isaac Feinman (Kevin Durkin.) Gray has changed and, having been, he thinks, humiliated, won’t listen to the truth. He condemns and abandons her. Sybil commits suicide. (Bloodstain made of dropping flower petals is terrific) Amelia, Isaac (beefed up roles that clutter the story) and her brother James (Tyreese Kadle) swear vengeance. None have Dorian’s name, but James continues to search. Not without remorse, the hero deep dives into debauch.
While everyone else grows old, Gray remains in his early twenties, as captivating and faun-like as ever- on the outside. The portrait, however, long since hidden in an attic, is visibly distorted by perversion. Every foul, selfish, dishonest thought and abusive act take a toll. Having an actor play the increasingly wretched painting while holding an empty frame (an expressive, preternaturally still Carter Horton), is inspired. Another young woman is almost lost and a violent murder (two in this version) is committed before the protagonist inadvertently finds the only way out.
Of the cast, Brad DeLeone (Dorian Gray) and Topher Layton (Basil Hallward) are stand-outs. Both bring nuance to a production that lacks it. Both sing well and have clearly made character decisions beyond the written page. The rest of the cast is mixed with Maura McColgan and Kevin Durkin appreciably over the top.
Christen Mandracchia’s direction is pedestrian. The only onstage indication of newfound lifestyle is an opium pipe-how much of the audience realizes it’s opium? which minimizes what should be a spectacular downfall. (Blame goes partly to the book writer here.) A scene with the entire company embodying temptation is utterly cliché, replete with unintelligible words, twisted limbs and what seems like hissing. Andrew Vitovitch’s Fight Choreography, on the other hand, is first rate.
Lyrics lack specificity and bite. “Temptation”, “The Pleasures of the Night,” and “What a Wonderful Night”- an ostensibly vicious gossip song, are way too general to have any real effect. The last of these evinces a really clever chorus, but verses fall flat. Songs whose lyrics aren’t appropriate to volume nonetheless swell.
Many tunes meander dissipating impact; ballads lose their ardor because of this approach. A counterpoint trio with Gray, Wooten, and Hallward is well arranged; incidental music evocative. Keyboardist Kevin Mucchetti (also the Orchestrator) is skillful. One gets the feeling his is the more successful musical contribution.
Christen Mandracchia’s (Set Design) wooden boxes are quickly configured to create credible structures.
Costumes by Courtney Boches range from simply wrong – Sybil in a short white skirt with striped, cotton tights and an awful wig- to quietly effective (the three lead men). Cold shoulders were not worn in the 19th Century. One doxie costume puts the spotlight on a performer with an extremely minor role.
Dorian Grey is good source material for a musical. Christopher Dayett and Kevin Mucchetti capture its darkness but overcomplicate a story more powerful in simpler telling. 19th Century mores that would add shock value are mostly ignored. Towards the end of the piece, Basil Hallward is revealed to be gay (a conjecture of these writers) which feels trendy and wrong. The show could learn something from both the Grand Guignol of Sweeney Todd and uber-romanticism Phantom of the Opera.
NOTE: After a great deal of negative reaction over Wilde’s immorality The Picture of Dorian Grey was republished in 1891 with an added preface in which the author defended the book and freedom of art per se. I assume this is the source of Christopher Dayett’s ponderous, off-putting introduction.
Photos by Greg Boulden
New York Musical Theater Festival and Mill Creek Players present
After The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Book/Lyrics by Christopher Dayett
Music- Christopher Dayett, Kevin Mucchetti
Directed by Christen Mandracchia