The New York Musical Theatre Festival
The Cure has plenty going for it. Sterling rock-lined music that, as music directed by Mark Hartman, scales the heights of electric engagement. A mind-blowing cast, except for Manu Narayan (who created the lead in Bombay Dreams) filled with young super-talents even musical connoisseurs will have trouble identifying. A gougingly original story that turns traditional vampire folklore on its ear (or, if you prefer, its pointed teeth). And invigorating staging from director Elizabeth Lucas that unites the Goth-concert culture with Broadway practicalities more seamlessly than conventional wisdom has traditionally considered possible.
Unfortunately, these fine elements lack the adhesive necessary to ever coalesce into a spectacular show. Most of the time, this is due to the book, which despite its newfangled interpretations is hardly free from confusions or clichés. A young columnist and author named Gray (Zak Resnick), suffering from a terminal disease and courting vampiric immortality to avoid the inevitable, is a worthy foundation. And establishing as his love interest a young blood-sucker named Unique (Jen Sese), who’s wiled away her countless nights poring through Gray’s first novel, is a sensible method of gauging Gray’s progress in coming to terms with himself.
But none of this is strong enough to compensate for a raft of subplots that fill out rather than fill in. The power struggle between Vladimir (Gregg Goodbrod), the leader of the coven (which hides out in an abandoned church, believe it or not), and his rebellious protégé, Rypien (Narayan), consumes the prologue and almost all of the second act, with a background and stakes that are at best dubious. The involvement of two street kids (Cat Stephani and Lindsie Van Winkle) with the coven threatens to expose it to outside law enforcement, culminating in a brilliantly predictable anticlimax. On top of all this, is there really a desperate need for Gray’s despondent gay friend, Alex (Michael Buchanan), to find solace in the arms and neck of the vampire Sasha (Kyle Harris)?
On the most basic level, this show succeeds where its predecessors failed, because it treats its subject with artistic reverence. But in piling on the angsty drama as if a treatment for distant Twilight follow-up, Weiser pushes things practically to the untenable point of parody. The second act, for example, is almost entirely sung, and approximates Les Misérables in its stylized self-importance. But numbers about the monotony of living life only at night and the catastrophic dangers of the sun are rather less inspirational than Boublil and Schönberg’s anthems about physical freedom and spiritual liberty. A variety of statements about the nature of the mysterious “cure” and its connection to existence range from the pseudo-profound to the silly. (I’m still trying to decide which applies to “The closer you are to death, the more you appreciate life.”) And a bewildering ending, concerning the various expirations and resurrections the characters’ alternative lifestyle allows, is yet more putting effect ahead of effectiveness.
Weiser’s music is always stirring, weaving through wailing ensembles and piercing power ballads with equal fluency. His work on the bigger character numbers - Alex and Sasha’s surging seduction song, “’Til Now”; Unique’s “Walk in the Sun”; Vladimir’s “The Story Never Ends”; Gray’s searching “I Know” - represents powerful, searing writing of the kind that’s been in short supply at 2009’s musicals, whether in NYMF or elsewhere. In sound and approach, he’s attractively close to Tom Kitt of Next to Normal and High Fidelity fame. And many of the actors are simply dazzling putting across these songs - Goodbrod's explosive tenor carries all the authority Vladimir needs, and Sese’s stunning belt voice jolts her every number straight into the ionosphere.
For The Cure, or any musical like it, to truly work, however, it must behave and sound like no other. And many of Weiser’s other compositions are flaccidly conventional: It’s never clear why the vampires are introduced with a musical “Truth or Dare” game, why Unique and Gray begin their courtship comparing their capacities for “Sex, Drugs, & Rock ‘n’ Roll,” or whether there’s really no better way of circumscribing vampiric political tussling than with Unique and Vladimir’s “Black and White World.” The score needs to be as rampantly fresh as the book, and right now it’s not - often enough, at any rate.
At least the show isn’t classically boring - being utterly bland is much deadlier than exposure to the 7:00 AM sun. But it’s nowhere near electric enough to satisfy as more than an outline of a mythos and a compositional philosophy that may be loaded with promise, but currently have nothing to back them up. It’s completely believable that Weiser could someday fashion this show into a genuine hit, but he first needs to pinpoint its soul and, more importantly, its heart. No musical, vampire-based or otherwise, can survive being bloodless, the one thing this incarnation of The Cure unquestionably is.