Review by Sandi Durell
The 1965 epic movie depicting the Russian Civil War beginning in 1917, is now an epic Broadway musical of grand proportions with book by Michael Weller, music by Lucy Simon and lyrics by Michael Korie and Amy Powers. It also fits well into the current political and social unrest that has gripped our world more intensely of recent years. Good timing!
The operetta-like musical involves a young child, Yurii Zhivago (young Yurii – Jonah Halperin – also as Sasha), whose parents are now deceased, the father a once-rich bourgeoisie who has lost his wealth, leaving his young son nothing. Young Yurii is taken in by well-to-do friends of his now deceased parents – Alexander and Anna Gromeko (Jamie Jackson, Jacqueline Antaramian), with their young daughter Tonia (young Tonia Ava Riley Miles), in Moscow, Yurii eventually growing up and marrying Tonia (an efficient and sweet Lora Lee Gayer). Yurii Zhivago (played by a believable sensitive, romantic and vocally blessed Tam Mutu) is a medical student but his heart is that of a poet. The wedding is a lavish event, filled with pomp and circumstance, fine satins and jewels.
We meet Lara Guishar (a knowing, intense, lovely sounding Kelli Barrett) whose boyfriend Pasha (a scary Paul Alexander Nolan) is a political radical ready for revolution. Pasha and Lara wed and, on their wedding night, Lara reveals how she has been entangled in an affair with an older, well-connected womanizing lawyer, Victor Komarovsky (self assured regal Tom Hewitt) since her mother’s death. The pain is too great for Pasha as he runs off to battle becoming an extremist and leader in the Peoples’ Revolution. Lara tries to rid herself of Victor by attempting to shoot him, meeting Zhivago and there is explosive chemistry between them resulting in a great passionate affair.
The production is filled with the horrors of war (fight director Steve Rankin), the massacre of the people as the Red army invades cities, towns and villages. In fact, it’s a bloody mess of dying soldiers first fighting the Germans, and then each other, as the Russian Army is slaughtered by their own, along with those who enjoyed any degree of upper class lives. Eventually, Zhivago’s family home in Moscow becomes living quarters for a Red Army.
Lara and Zhivago meet up again on the battlefield – he, as a doctor – she, as a nurse. And at the head of the bloodshed is Pasha who has taken on the last name of Strelnikov – a name when heard, that has people shaking in their boots with fear as the war rages on. He is a relentless, disparaging murderer as Czarist Russia crumbles –bringing to the fore, a tale of three men in love with one willful woman (bares similarities to An American in Paris here).
As Zhivago and family flee the raging civil war in 1920s Moscow to a tiny village in the country, he once again finds his beloved Lara who has chosen to live a quieter existence working the land and in a local library.
Given the extensive historical relevance of the era, one missing element in this grandiose production is character development but it must be forgiven within the 2 ½ hours. It isn’t unusual to condense in a musical adaptation where the strength of the production lies in the musical storytelling. Audiences will be tempted to make comparisons to Les Miz.
The tale is told through poignant lyrical and musical achievement and a romantic love that pulls at the heartstrings adding to the emotional blood surge. There are powerful songs such as “Now” sung by Barrett and Mutu, and a juxtaposing “Love Finds You” (Barrett, Mutu, Hewitt, Gayer, Nolan) along with “Ashes and Tears” (Yurii, Liberius, Partisans); all penetrate deeply. And, of course, the hauntingly beautiful Lara’s Theme “Somewhere My Love” finds its way in as well.
The battle scenes are explosively intense (in more ways than one) as cannons and firearms shatter the silence more than one might like (split on sound design by SCK Sound) wishing you had ear plugs. Fires rage as fear pervades (special effects Greg Meeh). The exquisite lighting design is by Howell Binkley, with resplendent projection design by Sean Nieuwenhuis.
Costumes by Paul Tazewell capture the grandeur as well as the drab, bloodiness of battle, and the mediocrity of the insanity that prevailed. Kelly Devine skillfully choreographs from lavish waltz to Russian Cossack dance. And the incomparable Des McAnuff directs with great assurance and style.
Dr. Zhivago, Broadway Theatre 1681 Broadway, NYC 2 hours, 40 minutes www.doctorzhivagobroadway.com 212 257-8053
*Photos: Matthew Murphy