Review by Sandi Durell
John Kander (Cabaret, Chicago, The Scottsboro Boys) is an endless well of musical talent that suddenly surprises with something so extraordinary that one is awe struck watching and listening to what is currently gracing the stage at the Vineyard Theatre – – The Beast in the Jungle,with a book by David Thompson (Steel Pier, Flora the Red Menace).
Described as a dance play, it is, in fact, a stunning 1 hour, 45 minute entre into a world of psychic realization that probes the inner mind and soul. Based on Henry James’ classic 1903 novella, the story takes us on a wondrous journey into love, regret and personal demons.
The protagonist is John Marcher (the older – sensationally played by Peter Friedman, Ragtime) and the younger John, the riveting Tony Yazbeck (On the Town) as the story of a love affair unfolds between Marcher and the lithe and lovely May (American Ballet’s gorgeous Irina Dvorovenko – Grand Hotel). The waltz music readily explains the core of Marcher. . . a man who waltzes through life, missing his golden chances to connect. The exquisite dramatic portrayals tell the story in balletic movements, reaching into contemporary dance, with complete devotion to detail under the creative hand of director/choreographer Susan Stroman.
The story unfolds in flashbacks when young nephew (Tony Yazbeck) visits his Uncle John, an art dealer returning from a funeral, a small Matisse tucked under his arm, and where the young nephew hopes to find solace after breaking up with his live-in girlfriend. Rather than solace, he is tossed into a world of John’s turmoil past and the demons and beasts that kept him from a lifetime of happiness with the young May he met many years before, over time and continents, taking us on a journey through Naples, Italy, The Cotswolds in England and on to New York. Uncle John is granted a second chance years later finding May, now a noteworthy photographer, married to a well-to-do, rifle totting art collector, a formidable Teagle F. Bougere. Young John has purchased $20 million worth of paintings, including a small Matisse, on behalf of the husband for their lavish estate, presenting an opportunity to rekindle his desire for May.
The tale is told with pointed dialog and through passionate inspired dance sequences by the youthful lovers who twirl, swirl, leap and land in exquisite longing and abandon, their bodies sensually touching and ablaze in hot intimacy.
But can John fulfill his longing, rid himself of the beasts that haunt his soul and spend his life waltzing through the flowers with the love of his life? And can the nephew, in the present, learn the lessons of a lifetime from the past?
The lovely women who complete the talented cast dance throughout in the “Palazzo Waltz,” The Cotswolds Waltz,” “Manhattan Waltz” and “Grand Waltz Romantique” (to name a few) and include Maira Barriga, Elizabeth Dugas, Leah Hofmann, Naomi Kakuk, Brittany Marcin Maschmeyer, Erin N. Moore. They are delightful.
The remarkable scenic design that includes water, a boat, flowers and so much more is all to the credit of Michael Curry, who also designed costumes. The exquisite lighting design (those gorgeous blues) that compliment, is by Ben Stanton with sound by Peter Hylenski.
I cannot give enough praise to this inspired piece of theater created through the musical vision of John Kander in collaboration with David Thompson and Susan Stroman. You MUST give yourself the gift of The Beast in the Jungle!
Photos: Carol Rosegg
Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15 Street (off Irving Place) thru June 17 www.vineyardtheatre.org