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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Musical Somewhere in Time at Portland Center Stage Needs More Time to Gel

Also see David's interview with Ken Davenport


Andrew Samonsky, Hannah Elless and Marc Kudisch
Photo by Patrick Weishampel
Much is expected of a musical based on a popular book or movie, and Somewhere in Time, though a critically dismissed film when it first screened, has become a cult favorite, as is the original book by noted author Richard Matheson ("I Am Legend", "The Incredible Shrinking Man", "What Dreams May Come" and many classic "Twilight Zone" scripts). Portland Center Stage is premiering the stage musical adaptation in a promising production, yet it is clearly lacking in one of the most essential ingredients for the show to win acclaim should it go to Broadway, namely, a sweeping musical score. While writer/producer Ken Davenport has crafted a very solid script (that admittedly takes a while to get moving) which hews more to the novel than to the glossy Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour film, composer Doug Katsaros' tunes, though often wistfully lovely, don't tend to linger in the memory, and lyricist Amanda Yesnowitz' lyrics are riddled with banal and predictable rhymes, and tend towards the generic, rather than filling us in more about the story's characters.

Starting out in the early 1970s, promising playwright Richard Collier, flush with his first big success, meets a strange old woman who leaves him with a vintage pocket watch and the words "Come back to me." A few years later, facing a downward turn in his career fortunes and the diagnosis of a possibly life threatening brain tumor, Collier becomes fascinated with the life story of a wildly popular early 20th century stage star, Elise McKenna, whom he realizes was the old woman who came to him, shortly before her death. Encouraged by a Dr. Friend that time travel is possible through self-hypnosis, Collier checks in at the Mackinac Island Grand Hotel where McKenna stayed and appeared in a play in 1912, and finds himself in the midst of a love triangle with the actress and her vain-arrogant and controlling manager William Fawcett Robinson. Elsie finds herself compelled to a love-affair with Richard, but Fawcett's machinations and the whole time travel conundrum play into the ultimate resolution of the bittersweet fantasy.

Somewhere in Time as a musical reminded me greatly of aspects of two well-known Alan Jay Lerner musical fantasies: Brigadoon, in which the barriers of time thwart the lovers, and also the original version of On A Clear Day You Can See Wherever. Both works, however, benefit greatly from their musical scores, which cannot yet be said for Somewhere in Time. The opening number "Your Future Begins Tonight," which comes off as a sub-par facsimile of something in Merrily We Roll Along and not a mood-setting kickoff, is one that should really be rethought.

Director Scott Schwartz brings a romantic heart to the storytelling and a cinematic flow to the staging of the production. He also has a fine cast to work with. Andrew Samonsky grasps the huge, demanding role of Richard Collier and delivers a performance of guileless charm, with a voice that is at once easy and powerful. He also is onstage about 90% of the time, while his co-stars in the love triangle don't really figure into the action until near the end of act one, a flaw which needs to be remedied. Hannah Elless is postcard picture perfect as Elise, managing a smooth mix of star haughtiness and incurable romantic, and she sings with limpid beauty, notably on the lovely spotlight ballad "Something My Heart Never Felt Before" duet with Samonsky. Marc Kudisch as Robinson offers his usual commanding presence, matinee idol good looks, and exceptional voice, and is actor enough to make the relatively small role a stand out. He keeps us guessing at the man's ultimate intentions, no small feat given the character's seemingly obvious cad status. His only real featured song "Long, Long Way to Indiana" is composer Katsaros' most musically inventive, and lyricist Yesnowitz' most distinctive contribution. Broadway veteran David Cryer is warmly charming as Arthur, the aged hotel bellhop and still in possession of a commanding vocal prowess himself, as showcased on "The Grand Hotel." Standouts among the versatile ensemble, who have quite a lot to do in this musical, are Lizzie Klemperer as a lovelorn librarian (is there any other kind in musicals?), Sharonlee MacLean as the modern day Laura (Elise's assistant), Erik Lieberman as the prissily officious desk clerk, and precociously adorable Brady James, as the child version of Cryer's Arthur.

John Carrafa's choreography keeps the action constant, and neatly separates the movement styles of past and present, and the musical end of things from the Katsaros' own orchestrations, to musical direction and conducting by Rick Lewis is of a high order. Alexander Dodge's set is attractive and suggestive rather than overly elaborate, with an attractive lighting design by Mike Baldassari and handsome costumes by Jeff Cone.

The story told in Somewhere in Time is not for the jaded or cynical. If you have a sentimental side this adaptation well certainly wring a few teardrops. With some earnest effort to beef up the musical score it may have the life its creators clearly want for it, on Broadway and beyond.

Somewhere in Time runs through June 22, 2013, at Portland Center Stage, 128 NW 11th Avenue, Portland, Oregon . For ticketing and other information go to www.pcs.org.



- David Edward Hughes



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