Manhattan Theatre Club Presents:
TIME AND AGAIN
Performances begin January 9, 2001; Opening night is January 30; Closes February 18.
Based on Jack Finney's popular novel, TIME AND AGAIN is a haunting new musical about a modern-day Manhattan advertising illustrator who is transported back to 1880's New York where he finds himself immersed in a world of horse-drawn carriages, gaslights, and an enchanting young woman who will win his heart.
DAVID MCCALLUM (Danzinger/Cyrus) was born in Glasgow, Scotland and although he is
best known for his role of Illya Kuryakin in the legendary series "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," he has continued to perform in film, television and theatre on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere. Recently, he appeared on television in "Law & Order" and "Sex and the City," and the Broadway revival of Amadeus.
Ellen remembers the last performance, 2/18/01:
The play was wonderful! I thoroughly enjoyed it, and so did the rest of the audience. The music was fantastic, the costumes beautiful, and the props and sets, although minimal, were evocative and classy. Everyone sang so beautifully. IMHO this play would do beautifully anywhere, including Broadway and every summer stock theater imaginable. Here are the details, as best I can remember -
The theater itself was in the old City Center building, down two flights of stairs. The whole building was clean and new and bright. We got down to the Theater II level and had to wait on line, since seating was general admission. Luckily we got there in plenty of time and ended up in the center section, third row, about 10 feet from the stage. The theater was very small and seating was around 3 sides of the stage, set up in rows of chairs. It was quite a professional set up, though, as you would expect from a place that is known for being a pre-Broadway tryout venue. All the seats were taken, and the audience ages looked mainly to be wealthy theater patrons (Lisa was counting mink coats!) although there were a few outsiders like us as well. Excellent lighting and sound system. We settled in, and the play started. David appeared in the second scene and he was on stage throughout the play quite a lot - much more than Amadeus, and I think even more than Communicating Doors as well. He blustered in as Dr. Danziger, talking a mile a minute to Si Morely, the leading man. He finally settles in talking about his past, and starts singing! He had his own solo song called "At the Theater," and although it wasn't a very challenging song, with operatic highs and lows, he did very well and seemed quite natural at it. It reminded me of the way he sang on the audiotape Wind in the Willows. He reappears in scene 7, which takes place in the past in the boardinghouse. In the past David plays Cyrus Hogue, his own great grandfather. In this scene he is part of the song "The Music of Love" and is dressed in a very nice old-fashioned brown suit, with a longish jacket and vest. He had on muttonchops as well when he was Cyrus. It was quite a long scene and he's everywhere, doing business in the background. At one point the villain comes in drunk and Cyrus helps him up the stairs. This guy looked well over 6 feet tall, and he draped himself over David who had to lug him around. :-) The way they changed sets was in the semi-dark, and cast members whisked things on and off stage. David carried two chairs about at one point. We were counting costume changes for David and came up with 4 (we *think*) - his Dr. Danziger outfit of ugly plaid coat and bow tie, his very nice brown suit, a white suit with large top hat and tails and bright red vest (this was during the "show within a show" portion -more about that in a minute) and a black suit that was very elegant, again with vest and longish tails. We think he was waltzing - argh! I can't remember.
Act II started in Von Hoffman's Tavern, with David and company performing the song "The Marrying Kind." This was a comic song, with Danziger's grandmother performing the lead, and David playing her father, who's trying to stop her from getting married. He does it with an American southern accent! It was a patter-type song and very funny - I remember he got a big laugh when he rhymed something about his daughter marrying a Yankee and wiping his tears away and saying "thankee." This is where he wore the white suit, and he even did a little dancing as part of the group. Quite wonderfully, of course. :-) Back again in Scene 5 as Danziger again. The leading lady, Julia, has come into the present from the past (she slips on a Donna Karan suit over her long petticoat!) and she feels quite lost. Si worries about her to Danziger, who isn't really concerned over he feelings. One again back in the past to the finale and the reprise of "The Marrying Kind" with David back in his white suit and sawed off shot-gun. He joined the company singing again, and I actually had the tune running around in my head for hours, as a good Broadway musical is supposed to do to you. Cast bows, standing ovation, David does a low bow and hair flops magnificently.
Time and Again
For those like myself who cant resist staring at old photographs
of New York and longing to actually be back there, Jack Finneys
novel Time and Again is pretty much irresistible.
Because of this, the novel is perhaps a more natural property for film than the stage; a movie might be able to recreate the period in a way no theatrical production could. But even a film couldnt capture the first-person voice of the novel, which allows us to see things in both eras through Sis viewpoint and perceptive commentary.
The stage life of the musical version by Jack Viertel (book) and Walter Edgar Kennon (music and lyrics) extends back to readings in 1993, but the show had its official premiere in 1996 at San Diegos Old Globe, directed by Jack OBrien (The Full Monty), starring Howard McGillin and Rebecca Luker, and announced for an opening at the Martin Beck Theatre. The Old Globe version made a number of significant alterations to its source. To cite just a couple: While the mystery that provokes Sis journey belonged in the novel to Kate, at the Old Globe it involved Sis grandfather. In the San Diego show, villain Jake Pickering dies in the fire, while in the novel he lives to assume the identity of the man he was blackmailing.
But for the most part, the Old Globe version was faithful to the novels action, and the result was, if not disastrous, plodding and overloaded with plot. The reason why the musical didnt vanish at that point was that, in addition to the appeal of its source, the show came to life on a number of occasions thanks to some ravishing songs, most notably a duet for the two women in Sis life, Who Are You Anyway?, and the near-title song (Time and Time Again), the kind of soaring love duet for which one searches in vain in contemporary opera.
After further development in workshop, Time and Again is at last having its New York premiere at Manhattan Theatre Clubs intimate City Center Stage II, and thats part of the problem with the current production. Kennons score is old-fashioned, lush, and full-bodied, the sort of thing that demands what it had at the Old Globe, an orchestra boasting 20 musicians. While the music has for the MTC version been attractively arranged for two pianos, its a score that cries out for the full orchestration that would match the kind of operatic singing required of several of the principals.
Ten of the songs heard at the Old Globe have been retained, with three or four new ones introduced. But the score has undergone far less alteration than the book: While the new Time and Again retains the central time travel theme, the blackmail plot, and other elements from the novel, it features what is in many respects a new story that deviates sharply from the source. Si is now a partner with Kate in an ad agency, his recent promotion owed to the campaign he created for a new fragrance, its logo the haunting face of a 19th century woman. Where Si once agreed to his journey in order to uncover the story behind a mysterious letter, hes now persuaded to journey back when government scientist Dr. Danziger produces a portrait of the same womans face, drawn a century ago by none other than Si himself. The face in the portrait will, of course, come to life as heroine Julia, the woman he meets and falls in love with during his trip to the past.
With more echoes of Brigadoon and Portrait of Jennie than before, the new version is also much more interested in the social conditions of the earlier era, with Julia, demure at the Old Globe, now more complex and assertive, a fighter for civil rights and womens suffrage, a believer in democracy as symbolized by the Statue of Liberty, but pragmatic about her economic status and the choices she must make because of it. (One charming Old Globe song, Fairy-Tale Life, is gone, as it wouldnt have fit the new Julia.) Wholly new characters include the operetta soubrette who is Dr. Danzigers grandmother, thus explaining his possession of the old portrait. (Note that the program credits James Hart with additional story material, although Hart gets no program bio.)
Some of this is for the better; its nice that Si now has a more romantic motivation for his journey. But the show remains overplotted, the first half hour still discouraging. As at the Old Globe, the experiment is set up too hastily; where the novel had the luxury of expending many pages describing its modus operandi, it must be taken care of in minutes here, so we never fully buy into it.
In addition to depriving the score of its richness, the new production--with a cast of 15 in a small playing area with the audience on three sides--cant compete with the Old Globe version, much less the novel, in terms of conveying the reality of the past. While director Susan H. Schulman supplies a fairly intricate staging for such a limited space and the sets (Derek McLane) and costumes (Catherine Zuber) are attractive given the budget, one isnt transported the first time Si manages the trick of leaving the present, or when Si brings Julia with him into the modern world.
But no show with as many lovely songs can be a washout, and in addition to the duets noted above, there are big, aria-like outbursts (Who Would Have Thought It?) and quieter things (She Dies) for Si; fine numbers for the heroine (What of Love?, I Know This House); a creepy musical scene (Carrara Marble) for the villain and his victim; and some adept pastiche for the musical show in which the actress is appearing.
With Joseph Kolinski the only holdover from the Old Globe, the cast works hard, with a fair amount of doubling. Laura Benanti is an enchanting singing actress; if the role of Julia doesnt allow her to cut loose and have fun as she did in The Sound of Music or Wonderful Town, shes a pleasure to watch, a leading lady here to stay. In the demanding role of Si, Lewis Cleale is at times stiff or nerdy, but is mostly appealing and in good voice.
I cant seem to get enough of Julia Murneys singing. If her third consecutive Manhattan Theatre Club musical doesnt give her nearly as much to sing as The Wild Party (what show ever will?), it offers more than she had in A Class Act, and her duet with Benanti on Who Are You Anyway? is the evenings high point. As Kate, Murney shines in her good solo (The Right Look) and demonstrates a flair for delivering a droll remark, winning exit applause for her final one.
Lauren Ward is at her most aggressive, but its appropriate for the role of the actress. As Pickering, its nice to see Christopher Innvar (Floyd Collins) in good voice again after a bad patch that saw him depart prematurely from A New Brain. David McCallum does about as well as possible in the dual role of Danziger and a boardinghouse resident, and the veteran actor can even sing a little.
Time and Again is a worthy attempt at a traditional book musical with a score often unashamedly in the operetta mode. I wish I could say that, after so many years of development, it has now found satisfying form. But its a musical that really requires a sizable production, rather than this chamber mounting. If the result is respectable and worth seeing just for the best of the musical numbers, the piece remains uncomfortable and unfulfilled. Time and Again is in something of its own time warp, between the fuller but unnecessarily dutiful Old Globe version and the more original but undernourished MTC one. Perhaps Finneys novel should have been a movie.
New York Post
TIME TRAVEL TALE NOTHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO Wednesday,January 31,2001 By DONALD LYONS -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- TIME AND AGAIN At the Manhattan Theatre Club, 131 W. 55th St. Through Feb. 18. Call City Tix (212) 581-1212. MUSICALS often spring from improbable manipulation of time, as in "Brigadoon" and "Finian's Rainbow" and they often involve the desire for a better world for women. Take "Bloomer Girl," the 1944 gem.
So there's nothing in itself unlikely about the plot mechanics or the corny idealism of "Time and Again," the new musical that sends an ad man back into the 19th century to meet a noble woman with all sorts of ideals.
What's missing is the lovely lyricism or the spirited comedy, beauty and wit that make us forget the sillinesses of the story and lose ourselves in the musical moment.
"Time and Again" has a book by Jack Viertel (based on a famed romance by Jack Finney) and music and lyrics by Walter Edgar Kennon.
They try to tell the tale of Si, an ad man who, in the course of a perfume campaign, draws as his "Nostalgia Girl" a lovely lady of the 1880s. She haunts him. Is she real?
He seeks counsel from a "Yale biophysicist" who knows all things and is played by David McCallum as a sage Barry Fitzgerald.
"There is," explains the prof, "a different now." OK. And, poof, Si is back in the 1880s, rooming in the home of the Yale prof's ancestor. The man has a sensible wife, a daughter who's in musical comedy, and a niece, Julia, who wants a brave new world - and gets one with Si's help.
Should our hero and heroine remain in the 1880s - or should they return to the America of 2000?
They'll have to make that choice when they wind up trapped in the torch of the Statue of Liberty, whence they are transported (don't ask me how) to today.
Julia is Laura Benanti, a woman of charm and musicianship reduced to an uninteresting dreariness here. As Si, Lewis Cleale is a tall, bland leading man - here, all surface and no depth, all cheer and no glow.
Spunky and with a glint of humor are Lauren Ward as the musical comedienne and Jeff Edgerton as her devoted composer.
Another bright spot is the sassy, warm Julia Murney as the modern woman who is not too busy to have a crush on Si.
All this is given a skimpy presentation in the small space at the Manhattan Theatre Club. The props and settings are lugged on and off by the actors.
Everything depends on the music, which is competent but never swells to fervor or smiles in exuberance.
New York Times
'Time and Again': A Flight of Fancy to Channel a Quirky Past By BEN BRANTLEY ------------------------------------------------------------------------- How long can you listen to a music box, the sort that dribbles out a single tinkly melody, before you want to throw it out a window? Your answer should give a fair indication of your ability to sit through "Time and Again," the pallid, history-spanning romantic musical that opened last night at the Manhattan Theater Club.
Nearly every aspect of "Time and Again," adapted from Jack Finney's enduringly popular 1970 novel, feels diluted to the point of wateriness, including the appeal of the book that inspired it. Set in the New York of today and of 1882, the show brings to mind not so much a quaint period music box as a synthetic latter-day reproduction, the kind that plays "Feelings" as if it were "After the Ball."
"Time and Again" has been long aborning, with workshop productions dating to 1993 and a subsequent full staging in San Diego, and it has obviously remained close to the tenacious hearts of its creators, Jack Viertel and Walter Edgar Kennon. All the stranger, then, that a work that features time travel, a love divided between two centuries, blackmail, a ravaging fire and a frantic police chase should finally seem so static and passionless.
Like the novel, the musical follows the recruiting of Si Morley (Louis Cleale), a dreamy minded commercial artist, by a government project devoted to visiting times past. Its top-secret formula: a combination of Einstein's theory of relativity and the gospels of individual will power advocated in self-help books.
What takes the novel past its central credibility problems is its patently sincere wish to see another time as it was, minus the obstructions and condescension of hindsight. Si's greatest journey, accordingly, is not his voyage into a gaslight-era Manhattan but the leap of faith he takes in accepting its reality.
In condensing the novel into a two- and-a-half-hour musical, the show's creators have made little attempt to capture this process or its attendant sense of exhilaration. Mr. Viertel's book strips "Time and Again" down to its barest plot, adorned with some confused reflections on the birth of feminism. Mr. Kennon's thin, repetitive score, performed here chamber- style on two pianos, provides little compensatory emotion.
The music's numbing lack of variety suggests that past and present sensibilities are essentially the same. Though the evening, woodenly directed by Susan H. Schulman, is replete with those choruses of harmonic "ooohs" that are meant to raise goose bumps, it never manages to summon any genuine sense of wonder.
The evening's crack technical team, which includes Derek McLane (sets), Catherine Zuber (costumes) and Ken Billington (lighting), has created a pretty if wispy visual valentine to a lost Manhattan. But without the elaborate clothing of Finney's period-precise details, the story becomes yet another high-concept variation on your basic boy-meets-girl formula.
In this case, as is observed with an unexpected inkling of wit in the song "She Dies," the girl is dead before the boy is born. She is Julia Charbonneau, a comely occupant of the 19th- century boarding house where Si resides after stepping back in time. And we are lucky that she is played by Laura Benanti, a 21-year-old actress with uncanny self-possession and professional polish, not to mention a cut-crystal soprano.
Unfortunately, Julia has been assembled, piecemeal, out of contradictions the show doesn't try to reconcile. (She's a feisty protofeminist and a submissive bride-to-be.) Ms. Benanti speaks and sings here with a furrowed-brow severity, as if that might keep her perversely conceived character in line; the seductive freshness she brought to the Encores! production of "Wonderful Town" is only rarely in evidence.
The other 19th-century characters, none of whom ever spring into persuasive life, are portrayed by an estimable ensemble that includes the winning and accomplished young performers Christopher Innvar, as the requisite bearded villain, and Lauren Ward, as a vain young actress. A game but understandably embarrassed-seeming David McCallum shows up in dual roles as Ms. Ward's father and the dithery scientist who sends Si back to the past.
Mr. Cleale, a sweet-voiced tenor of engaging emotional transparency, gives off a goofy gallantry that does indeed suggest another, more mannered era. Then again, this is hardly appropriate, since Si is meant to be an alien in the past, a modern observer trying hard to fit in.
Only Julia Murney (Queenie in the Manhattan Theater Club's "Wild Party"), who plays Kate Mancuso, Si's strident 21st-century girlfriend, creates a persuasive character, exuding an angular contemporary aggression and a softening breath of insecurity.
Kate also gets the evening's two most appealing songs: a duet with Julia, her 19th-century rival, that suggests a dietetic version of "I Know Him So Well," from the musical "Chess," and a touchingly delivered ballad of renunciation. That the one believable figure in "Time and Again" belongs firmly to the present says much about what has gone wrong here.
TIME AND AGAIN Book by Jack Viertel; music and lyrics by Walter Edgar Kennon; additional story material by James Hart; based on a book by Jack Finney; directed by Susan H. Schulman; sets by Derek McLane; costumes by Catherine Zuber; lighting by Ken Billington; sound by Brian Ronan; music director, Kevin Stites; fight director, Rick Sordelet; production stage manager, Peggy Peterson; choreography by Rob Ashford; director of artistic development, Clifford Lee Johnson III; production manager, Michael R. Moody. Presented by Manhattan Theater Club, Lynne Meadow, artistic director; Barry Grove, executive producer. At City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street, Manhattan.
WITH: Laura Benanti (Julia Charbonneau), Lewis Cleale (Si Morley), Melissa Rain Anderson (Bessie), Ann Arvia (Mrs. Carmody), Jeff Edgerton (Felix Tiltzer), Eric Michael Gillett (Edward Carmody), Gregg Goodbrod (Young Doctor), Christopher Innvar (Jake Pickering), Patricia Kilgarriff (Aunt Evie), Joseph Kolinski (Trolleyman), George Masswohl (Mr. Harriman), David McCallum (E E. Danziger and Cyrus Hogue), Julia Murney (Kate Mancuso), Amy Walsh (Clarisse) and Lauren Ward (Emily Hogue).
Time and Again's Time Has Come And Gone; MTC Run Ends Feb. 18
The romantic science-fiction musical inspired by the novel by Jack Finney was sold out before it began performances on Jan. 9. The official opening Jan. 30 was followed by a flood of negative reviews in the New York dailies and magazines. Critics, in a collective sour mood, fell over themselves seeking adjectives to curse a show that many in the audience and industry had regarded as having one of the craftier scores in recent seasons. The bad reviews had the negative effect of some ticket cancellations, leaving room on a cancellation line for the musical theatre buffs who wanted to judge the work for themselves. (For the record, The Philadelphia Inquirer gave the show a rave.)
Workshop readings of the show were enthusiastically embraced in 1999 in New York City, and there was a hope for an eventual Broadway bow. Thomas Viertel, one of the producers who first initiated the project, told The New York Times there are no longer hopes to take Time and Again to Broadway.
The preview period saw tweaks, cuts, changes and additions by the collaborators and director Susan H. Schulman (Violet, The Secret Garden) and choreographer Rob Ashford. Tickets were scarce because the staging at the 150-seat Off-Broadway venue had to satisfy both MTC subscribership and the many industry folk trying to assess the show.
In previews, the show's Act One number, "The Primary Source," was replaced by "Standing in the Middle of the Road." The training scene in which the time traveler learns how to "go back" has also been abbreviated and clarified in previews, according to insiders.
All parties were privately hoping the intimate 15-actor staging of Time and Again, which has two pianos as its orchestra, will get a commercial transfer to Broadway, add an orchestra, increase ensemble by perhaps 6-10 members, and include more sophisticated effects and set values. The Great White Way has been the aim of the musical since it had a tryout at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 1996. Scenic, casting and musical elements would have been enhanced for any Broadway staging.
The show, with a score by composer-lyricist Walter Edgar ("Skip") Kennon and a book by Jack Viertel, concerns a modern New Yorker, Si Morley (Lewis Cleale), who is transported back in time at the request of Dr. Danziger (played by David McCallum), who heads a secret government project. Illustrator Si travels back to the 1880s and falls in love with Julia (Laura Benanti), complicating his modern-day romance with Kate (played by Julia Murney).
Thomas Viertel, Steven Baruch and Richard Frankel were the attached producers who initiated the project.
Next up at MTC Stage II is the urban musical revue, Newyorkers, billed as "a musical collage," by Stephen Weiner and Glenn Slater starting Feb 27.
By Kenneth Jones
Laura Benanti: Remember that name
By Clifford A. Ridley
You may not have heard of her, but you will. Trust me. She succeeded Rebecca Luker in The Sound of Music, won a Tony nomination for Swing!, and now is the alluring heroine of Time and Again, an irresistibly charming musical that opened last night at the Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II. She is flat-out gorgeous, sings like an angel, and inhabits a character with the sort of presence and total conviction granted only to a precious few.
And she is all of 21 years old.
Time and Again, skillfully adapted by Jack Viertel from a cult fantasy novel by Jack Finney, has to do with Si Morley (Lewis Cleale), a Madison Avenue commercial artist endowed with a kind of self-hypnosis that enables him to travel back in time. Encouraged by a government scientist, he propels himself into the New York City of 1882, where he becomes attached to an upper-crust household that includes the impoverished Julia Charbonneau (Benanti), the young protofeminist whose face on a century-old sketch has haunted him. And although he has been cautioned against interfering in the workings of the past, he proceeds to do precisely that when Julia's future is in peril.
The resulting show, which transpires largely but not wholly in the New York of gaslights and horse-drawn carriages, is variously a sci-fi fantasy, a comedy of manners (actually two, one for each era), a Victorian melodrama, and ultimately a love story of surprising tenderness and honest sentiment. This is quite a lot of dramatic territory to lay on the music and lyrics, by newcomer Walter Edgar Kennon, but they are mostly more than up to the job.
Kennon's score is an eclectic one, confected sometimes of pure pastiche, sometimes of intricate melodic circuitry a la Sondheim, sometimes of plain old full-throated lyricism, and sometimes (very few, happily) of anachronistically modern bluster in a Frank Wildhorn vein - the only blemishes on a score otherwise notable for its overall sophistication. If there's a CD in the works, count me in.
Directed with clarity and humor by Susan H. Schulman, with spirited choreography by Rob Ashford, the MTC production makes a virtue of simplicity. The unamplified singers are supported by two offstage pianos; the settings in both eras are established largely by rear-screen projections. The evening's main extravagance is its splendid costumery, designed by Catherine Zuber.
The cast, in addition to Benanti, is a strong one. Cleale (seen in Philadelphia as Joe Gillis in the Petula Clark tour of Sunset Boulevard) is a likable, resolute hero and sings in a light but pleasant tenor. More fine vocalizing and acting are turned in by Lauren Ward (Violet), as a perky music-hall soubrette, and Julia Murney (MTC's The Wild Party), as Si's chic modern-day girlfriend. David McCallum (Amadeus) plays roles in both eras with equal jauntiness; and Patricia Kilgarriff, Jeff Edgerton and Christopher Innvar, as an old-school villain of irredeemable nastiness, make sturdy contributions to the 19th-century part of the show.
But when you leave the theater, you may think only of Laura Benanti, whose Julia Charbonneau is at once so determinedly spunky and so meltingly vulnerable, not to mention so pure of voice, that you'd like to wrap her up and take her home with you. Time and Again, making a belated New York appearance after debuting five years ago in San Diego in substantially different form, is scheduled at the City Center only through Feb. 18, though I'd guess it may extend its run or transfer elsewhere. It deserves a wide audience, as does the captivating young woman at its center.
'Time and Again' Stumbles Backward
By MICHAEL KUCHWARA, AP Drama Critic
NEW YORK (AP) - It's no Big Apple ``Brigadoon.''
The intoxicating idea of traveling back a century or so fizzles and falls flat in ``Time and Again,'' Manhattan Theatre Club's musical adaptation of Jack Finney's cult novel that transports its modern-day hero to New York City in the 1880s.
The show, which opened Tuesday at MTC's tiny Stage II, is a term-paper musical: studious, sincere and not much fun, considering that its fanciful premise would seem to be made to order for affecting musical theater.
Jack Viertel's condensation of Finney's book is more academic than inspired, boiling down the story to the barest of bones and draining it of theatricality and romance. Although Walter Edgar Kennon's lyrics are literate and often inventive, they don't make much impression submerged in his workmanlike melodies.
Theatergoers who are not fans of the book may need some priming. Simon Morley is an unfulfilled advertising executive, despite the success of his latest creation, a perfume called ``Nostalgia.'' The product uses the haunting painting of a young woman from the late 19th century as its logo.
In Viertel's reworking of the story, Simon finds his way back to the 1800s with the help of a mysterious gent who urges Simon to empty his mind of ``now'' and fill it with ``then.'' ``Hypnotic reacclimation'' is what the man calls it, and before you know it, Simon has found his way back to 1882 and a Gramercy Park boarding house.
There, Simon - an understandably bewildered Lewis Cleale - meets the bewitching Julia Charbonneau, played by Laura Benanti. ``Bewitching'' is the proper word for Benanti, who exudes a genuine stage presence and has a lovely voice to boot. You can see why Simon is attracted to this creature. Julia is a 19th-century feminist, a champion of a woman's right to vote and a supporter of the Statue of Liberty, which, at the time, was in the process of being built.
The young woman is trapped in a dysfunctional relationship with the unsavory Jake Pickering who is busy blackmailing a candidate for governor over his use of shoddy construction materials. This love triangle never amounts to much since Pickering is obviously such a heel that there is no contest for the woman's affection.
Simon, of course, has a girlfriend, an advertising executive, back in the 21st century. Julia Murney, who plays the present-day love interest, has style and the necessary edge to deliver what could be the best song in the show, a hymn to unrequited love called ``The Right Look.''
Director Susan H. Schulman does what she can to keep the plot spinning on the smallest of stages. Yet the two worlds never credibly come alive, and it's the contrast between the two that should provide a lot of the show's enjoyment.
``Then is just a different now,'' goes one of the musical's more persistent lyrics. Well, maybe, but that doesn't say much for the present or the past created by this ``Time and Again.''
Village Voice, February 7 - 13, 2001 by Michael Feingold
Time and Again, in contrast, couldn't be more pacific. The authors have tried very hard to preserve Jack Finney's story, have put as much pleasantness as they could into its retelling, and in doing so have missed the point: The antique engravings scattered through Finney's novel are both the book's fun and its seals of authenticity, the source of the playful charm that keeps enlarging its cult of devoted readers. The stage has no equivalents for these touchstones of the tangible New York past that Finney's hero struggles to reshape. Or if it has, the adaptors haven't found them. Anybody can come out on stage and announce that he's traveling through time; making us believe it is another matter. The problem's intensified by the show's habit of sticking within our musical theater's all too standardized limits, where 1882 equals ragtime, which wasn't the case, really, among even tenuously respectable white New Yorkers. Stuck with a less than convincing set of illusions and a less than historical vocabulary in which to express them, the writers do their best, but the result is rarely more than an honorable defeat. Walter Edgar Kennon used to bill himself as Skip Kennon, and at times his music still skips blithely along, especially in a cheerful chunk of three-part counterpoint, but too often it merely walter-edgars its placid way through the script, which is wordy without verbal fun and data-laden without telling details.
With such shaky stuff, what's a director to do? Susan H. Schulman seems to have chiefly concentrated on helping her actors find whatever life they can in the material, while moving it along at a steady clip. In those departments, she gets good results: Lewis Cleale makes an appealingly hangdog hero, Laura Benanti turns his 1882 flame into a figure of complex pathos, and Julia Murney gets the sharp edge of her modern-day rival without the sharp vocal edges that have made me resist her previous performances. Since the cast also includes Patricia Kilgarriff, Lauren Ward, Melissa Rain Anderson, David McCallum, and Joseph Kolinski (who gets the best song), Time and Again clearly ought to blaze much brighter. Even while pressing the pace, Schulman isn't afraid to pause for contemplation, but in compressing the novel's magical lost world, the writers have left her almost nothing to contemplate. With appropriate if unconscious irony, Time and Again is the only musical I can think of with a title number that gets the show's title wrong, constantly singing, "Time and time again," as if its intention were to drag us down instead of charging us up.
It seems that none of the critics got what David McCallum was doing in Time and Again. His dotty old fuddy-duddy was derived from Henry Travers, who played the bell-less angel Clarence in Its a Wonderful Life. McCallum says hes glad at last to be a member of that old character-actor club. Plus, he has the best song in Walter Edgar Kennons scoreAt the Theater, a Scott Joplin-like waltz two numbers into the show.
Time and Again (Manhattan Theater Club; 150 seats; $40) A Manhattan Theater Club presentation of a musical in two acts with book by Jack Viertel, music and lyrics by Walter Edgar Kennon, based on the novel by Jack Finney. Additional story material by James Hart. Directed by Susan H. Schulman. Choreographed by Rob Ashford. Bessie - Melissa Rain Anderson Mrs. Carmody - Ann Arvia Julia - Laura Benanti Si Morley - Lewis Cleale Felix - Jeff Edgerton Mr. Carmody - Eric Michael Gillett Young Mr. Danziger - Gregg Goodbrod Jake Pickering - Christopher Innvar Aunt Evie - Patricia Killgarriff Trolleyman - Joseph Kolinski Harriman - George Masswohl Dr. Danziger - David McCallum Kate - Julia Murney Clarissa - Amy Walsh Emily - Lauren Ward _____ By CHARLES ISHERWOOD _____ "Time and Again," a musical receiving its Gotham premiere in a chamber production on the Manhattan Theater Club's tiny second stage, could be compared to an antique easy chair. It's an innocuous if unexciting piece of stage furniture, more sturdy in some patches than others and uncomfortably overstuffed. Susan H. Schulman's brisk production does its level best to showcase the musical's strengths, but the show bears some of the nicks and dents endemic to musicals that take the slow road to New York (it was originally produced in 1995 at San Diego's Old Globe): A feeling of dogged labor presides in place of a desired romantic inspiration. The show is adapted from a 1970 novel by Jack Finney more notable for its popularity than the quality of its prose. Lumpen with historical detail, it's a ponderous read for those not fascinated by its time-travel theme. Adapting it for the stage cannot have been an easy task, and the effort shows in the rushed rhythms of Jack Viertel's book. (No comment on the unseemly coincidence that finds the musical premiering the week after Jujamcyn theaters, where Viertel is creative director, handed MTC a $50,000 grant.) Finney devoted about 100 pages to the mystical process by which the main character, advertising art director Si Morley (Lewis Cleale), is whisked back from today to 1882 New York, but here it is sped through in a few sketchy contemporary scenes. (It seems to come down to wearing the right clothes and thinking really hard.) Aside from a vaguely suggested anomie and a desire to meet the mystery woman who has inspired one of his paintings, Si remains a character drawn in bland watercolors. When, late in the first act, his paramours past (Laura Benanti's Julia) and present (Julia Murney's Kate) sing the duet "Who Are You Anyway?," it's rather too apposite. Although he may not be blessed with the loveliest tenor, Cleale is a likable performer, and it's hardly his fault that Si remains a character defined only by plot functions. That's a flaw he shares with the musical, actually, and one common to stage adaptations of bulky novels. The parade of incidents in "Time and Again" crowds out the opportunities for creating distinctive characters. Back in 1882, Si meets and falls instantly in love with Julia (a swoon made no more sensible by her acknowledgment of its immediacy). But she's engaged to Jake Pickering (Christopher Innvar), who announces himself as bad to the core by way of dark facial hair and his dominating way with the spirited Julia. A budding suffragette, Julia is also involved in the campaign to bring the Statue of Liberty to New York; unfortunately, Benanti's excessively pert performance invites comparisons to that sturdy dame -- it's prettily sung, but not exactly pliant. Unbeknownst to Julia, as they said back then, Jake is trying to blackmail the tycoon Andrew Carmody. He sings us the details in a song called "Carrara Marble," one of several that composer-lyricist Walter Edgar Kennon has written in a familiar pseudo-Sondheim idiom. When they are not evoking that endlessly evoked master, Kennon's songs are echoing the jaunty style of music hall tunes or surging upward in the generic-romantic sound of today's Broadway (as in the nice but familiar-sounding title tune). Far too many of them are mere decoration, however, adding further padding to the show. At the top of the list of unnecessary numbers are both those involving the trolley conductor, as well as charming but overused music hall pastiche "The Marrying Kind." Viertel's book might have been more persuasive if it didn't have to tiptoe around so many competent but unexciting songs. (As a rule, it seems the longer a musical takes to get to a New York stage, the more excess baggage it brings -- see "Seussical.") Much of the singing is strong. Murney's steely sound is nicely contrasted with Benanti's small but lovely lyric soprano on the aforementioned duet, and "The Marrying Kind" is spiritedly performed by Lauren Ward, playing an aspiring actress who resides in the boarding house that's home to Julia, Jake and their visitor from the 20th century. Her relationship to Dr. Danziger (David McCallum), the fellow who sent Si on his fantastic journey in the first place, adds another thread to the musical's convoluted story and is central to its happy, if hardly logical, conclusion. The production also benefits from handsome design work. Derek McLane has brightened the cramped auditorium by decking it in (fake) white brick and paving the floor with a neat facsimile of inlaid marble. Projections on the back wall establish mood and era deftly: A ghostly trail of gas street lamps parade across a background of lace. Ken Billington's lighting is exquisite and Catherine Zuber's period costumes are a continual delight. In this auditorium you can even note the excellence of their execution -- sashes and ribbons, billows, bustles and piping are all exactingly sewn. That kind of care also marks Schulman's direction, which knits together the numbers fairly smoothly and masks some of the rougher junctions of its hard-breathing plot. But neither she nor her designers can supply the kind of magic lacking at the core of the show. Time travel may be effected with the blink of an eye in "Time and Again," but even Einstein may have had trouble working up the formula for a successful musical in the 21st century. Sets, Derek McLane; costumes, Catherine Zuber; lighting, Ken Billington; sound, Brian Ronan; music director, Kevin Stites; fight director, Rick Sordelet; production stage manager, Peggy Peterson. Artistic director, Lynne Meadow. Opened Jan. 30, 2001. Reviewed Jan. 27. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.
Star-Crossed in a Time Warp
by Linda Winer
IT IS NOT HARD to understand why the creators of "Time and Again have tried so hard for so long to find the musical in Jack Finney's 1970 cult novel. For starters, the time-traveling New York story is loaded with rich mystery, headstrong romantic characters and cues for music from today and 1882.
The show, directed here by Susan H. Schulman, appears significantly different from reports of Jack O'Brien's full production at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre in 1996. Despite Catherine Zuber's lavish costumes and a large distinguished cast, the sprawling story feels squashed into a chamber genre.
Derek McLane's economical sets manage to take us from modern apartment to the Dakota, from a 19th-Century boarding house on Gramercy Park to the arm of the Statue of Liberty. But the two-piano reduction of Kennon's score sounds cramped. If ever a story needed an orchestral sweep, this is it.
Jack Viertel -- best known as a Jujamcyn commercial producer -- has gracefully changed the story line to fit the form. And until he seems to give up any sci-fi logic altogether, the star-crossed romance is engrossing enough. Lewis Cleale does not have enough of the high notes -- musically or dramatically -- but he is likable as Si Morley, the advertising artist whose drawing of a 19th-Century woman becomes the link to his earlier life and love.
Laura Benanti, the young talent from "Swing, has the look and the operetta style for Julia, the woman Si left behind, while Julia Murney, so wonderful in "Wild Party, manages to make the 21st-Century lover seem strong without being pathetic or tough. David McCallum is underutilized but welcome anytime, this time as the mad scientist-spy who tries to use Si for unsavory business. And Lauren Ward, a smash in "Violet, goes effectively for a Carol Kane whimsy as Emily, the old-time comic actress.
In fact, the comic relief moments are especially sweet, even if Emily's big song, "The Marrying Kind, sounds a lot like the tune for "Frankie and Johnny. Kennon can write humorous lyrics, rhyming Bellevue with swell view and accusing Si of "robbing the crypt by loving a woman long dead. But the composer's serious side leans toward the stickily sentimental and, like Si's opening song, stands too resolutely "in the middle of the road.
For all the well-dressed ambition and plot curiosities, the evening feels turgid and static. The magic of Si's time traveling is on a "beam me up, Scottie level, and, ultimately, Viertel wants us to believe that the same furniture has remained in the same Gramercy parlor in perpetuity. Try telling that to the real estate agents, then or now.
Jan 31, 2001
The winners in what may have been quite a sweepstakes turned out to be Jujamcyn creative director-librettest Jack Viertel and composer-lyricist Walter Edgar Kennon, who figured what many Time and Again fans have figured over the last three decades: that the Finney favorite would make a terrific musical. Viertel and Kennon are right; the novel would make a terrific musical. The problem is that they're evidently not the people to do it. Nor do Susan H. Schulman, this production's director, or set designer Derek McLane seem the appropriate accomplices.
While Finney's marvelous folly seems ripe as a July peach to be musicalized, it happens not to be a narrative that offers itself up easily to the stage. Simon Morley's reasons for being sent back in time have to do with a complicated government study about which Finney may have been, well, finicky; it takes much detailed exposition and comes to involve a clandestine plan to alter one or two 1882 events so that a few slick villains don't pull off a scam with heavy-duty repercussions for the future. Finney also contrives that Morley's alternating between the present and the past and his increasing interest in Juliato the detriment of his affair with 20th-century antique dealer Katherine Mancusoare also somewhat complex.
So there's no question that adaptors, particularly those thinking to insert songs, are going to have to simplify, simplify, simplify. Even Time and Again purists such as myself would concede as muchparticularly in regard to the awful reality that, eventually, people might see the musical who have never cracked the novel or (gasp!) have never even heard of it. But there's no gainsaying that the redactions and rearrangements introduced must be artfully respectful of the spirit, if not every letter, of Finney's beloved original. Otherwise, why bother?
Here, Viertel and Kennon miss the mark. As storytellers, they don't have Finney's knack; although they've retained some of the structure, what they've eliminated and, more disturbingly, what they're added in an attempt to contemporize Finney's story dilutes the plot and cheapens it. The story now goes that Si Morley, who's just masterminded a successful advertising campaign for a perfume called Nostalgia, is having misgivings about his love affair with brittle agency head Kate Mancuso. He seems more attracted to the face in the Nostalgia ad. In that frame of mind, he acquiesces quickly when manipulative scientist E. E. Danziger recruits him for a slip through time's warp to the 1880's.
In one lengthy backward leap, he meets Juliawho, as Danziger had promised Si, not only looks like but is the inspiration for the Nostalgia ad girl. Si falls for her and, having done that, entangles himself in a scheme to expose as a scoundrel Julia's fiance, a cad who calls himself Jake Pickering. While all of this is occurring, Morley also encounters the other occupants of the boarding house over which Julia and Aunt Evie preside. Among this group are a music hall performer named Emily Hogue; her father, Cyrus; and Felix Tiltzer, a young songwriter. With them, Si trots off to a rally to raise money for completion of the Statue of Liberty. He also attends the opening night at Wallack's Theatre of the musicale Tiltzer wrote for himself, Emily, and her Dad to strut their stuff in.
Trouble comes to Si and Julia when they are implicated in a fire Pickering instigates as he is trying to blackmail Edward Carmody, a high-ranking City official. Fleeing the frenzied scene, the lovers wind up in the Statue of Liberty's arm (the one holding the torch), which has been sitting for some time in Madison Park awaiting the rest of the famous sculpture to be paid for and brought over from France. The pair's only escape is into the futurewhere, as bad luck would have it, Julia and Kate come face to face, and Kate realizes she's lost her fellow to someone with whom she can't compete. How right she is: In order to reach what's meant to be a happy ending, Si goes back to 1882 and announces to the astonished and delighted Julia that he's come for keeps.
In spinning this variation on Finney, Viertel and Kennon have taken out so much of the originalFinney's Simon makes many trips to 1882 and even takes Kate with him on the first jauntthat the story becomes illogical and difficult to follow. For instance, why does Danziger stress that Si remain in the past for only 24 hours if nothing especially threatening occurs when he stays on beyond the deadline? Most woefully, the adaptation team jettisons Finney's final coup de theatre: Simon makes a dramatic gesture in the past that guarantees the experiment of which he is a crucial ingredient will never take place. In the Viertel-Kennon scheme of things, Si merely turns up in the parlor at 19 Gramercy Park to arrange Emily's betrothal to Felix and his to Julia, thereby proving as the lights fade to black that love conquers all.
Well, all right, it's a musical, wherein "boy-gets-girl-even-if-she's-living-in-another-era" can make for a satisfying conclusion. What Viertel and Kennon may not have noticed is that, by eliminating all but the most essential episodes in Finney's giddy adventure and by turning Kate Mancuso into a hard-edged, 2001 business woman, they have distilled the novel into a retrograde romance. They've bent Time and Again so that now it's about an indecisive chap who turns down a woman living in the presentwith all the spiritual emptiness that fact seems to imply to himin favor of the kind of girl who married dear old dad. Or, in this case, dear old great-granddad.
In a very literal sense, Viertel and Kennon have put together a valentine about falling in love with nostalgia. They're declaring, as they stack their case in dialogue and song, that women were more appealing when they weren't running businesses but were, at most, volunteering to raise funds for Lady Liberty. In making this musical comment, they've turned Si, who's a ruminative action figure as Finney sees him, into something of a wuss. Astute students of the musical will immediately realize that this scenario, in which a befuddled romantic jilts his modern-day inamorata for a gal living in bygone times, has already been written. It's called Brigadoon and is a far superior show with lots more dancing. (What little choreography there is in Time and Again has been provided by Rob Ashford.). The subject the Viertel-Kennon team has tackled, about a lad who can't accept today's woman for who she is and instead opts out, could be the kernel of a probing showbut it would probably take Stephen Sondheim and George Furth to write it. Or have they? And is it Company?
Still, Viertel, Kennon, and James Hart (who's credited with having provided "additional story material") might have gotten away with this travesty if their associates had been able to recreate perhaps the most important aspect of Finney's work. The beauty of the book, and what its partisans probably cherish most, is its evocation of a lost New Yorkthe New York of a period when streets were illuminated by gas lamps, when society lived along Fifth Avenue, when 14th Street was the cultural center of things, when the Dakota had only recently been built and presided over the Upper West Side like a giant chess piece standing alone on a vast board.
In a time when the Broadway musical has all but succumbed to the misguided belief that audiences only want to see spectacle, Time and Again is a work that could have benefited from any number of technological gimmicks. (Perhaps some of them were on display at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, where the show premiered.) Without a budget large enough for such a version, Time and Again certainly calls for more imagination than is concocted by McLaneone of theater's most adept craftsmen, off his form here. A few slides and lighting effects (by Ken Billington) are synecdoches of Old New York and New New York; a few sleek chairs and lamps, and then a few ornate ones, are carried on; a raised platform with a wrought-iron railing is pressed into service as a trolley; some stage smoke curls out from the wings, unatmospherically. And director Schulman doesn't help matters along. To cite only one deficient example: When Si first claps eyes on Julia, there should be some concomitant clap of theatrical thunder. But no; the two just stand there and dully take each other in.
The gaps left by the creative team have the cast dangling. (Costume designer Catherine Zuber, recently fired unfairly from Suessical, is the only one holding up her end.) And what a cast it is. Some of the best and the brightest of today's musical comedy performers are on hand: Lewis Cleale as Si, Laura Benanti as Julia, Christopher Innvar as Jake, Lauren Ward as Emily, Jeff Edgerton as Felix, and Julia Murney as Katea part rather like the one she filled only a month or two ago in A Class Act). (Because the striking Murney has sharp features, is she being typecast as shrill and soulless so early in her promising career?) With the exception of Innvar, who seems to think he's actually in an 1882 melodrama and would undoubtedly have twirled his mustaches were they longer, these best and brightest are fine at what they're asked to do, and might have been finer under other circumstances. In the double role of Danziger and the elder Hogue, David McCallum plays with sufficient comic bluster.
Which leaves Kennon's score for consideration. It includes one perky pastiche called "The Marrying Kind" that Tiltzer (is he meant to evoke memories of Harry von Tilzer?) supposedly writes for Emily to introduce on the Wallack Theatre boards. In this jaunty ditty, which anachronistically celebrates independent womanhood, Kennon lines up a series of clever rhymes that include "Yankee," "lanky," and "thank 'ee." A duet in which Kate and Julia ask the musical question "Who Are You Anyway?" is rather pretty and gives the otherwise under-used Murney a chance to share focus. There's nothing particularly wrong with the rest of the score, but nothing much right about it, in a post-Lloyd Webber way.
Curiously, Time and Again almost has a title ditty but doesn't quite. Instead, the song is inexplicably called "Time and Time Again." There is, however, at least one superlative theater song that does include the phrase "time and again." Those three little words begin the verse to the stunning Oscar Hammerstein II-Jerome Kern ballad "All the Things You Are." That's the song I was humming to myself as I left Time and Again, thinking about all the things it could have been but isn't.