Jumpers by Tom Stoppard. Directed by David Leveaux. Set design by Vicki Mortimer. Costume design by Nicky Gillibrand. Lighting design by Paule Constable. Music by Corin Buckeridge. Choreography by Aidan Treays. Sound design by John Leonard for Aura. Video design by Dick Straker & Sven Ortel for Mesmer. Cast: Simon Russell Beale, Essie Davis, Nicky Henson, Eliza Lumley, John Rogan, Nicholas Woodeson, Michael Arnold, Andrew Asnes, Clark Scott Carmichael, Karl Christian, Tom Hildebrand, Michael Hollick, Don Johanson, Joseph P. McDonnell, Hillel Meltzer, Aaron Vexler.
In the gleaming revival of Tom Stoppard's Jumpers, which just transferred to the Brooks Atkinson from London's Royal National Theatre, the moon is everywhere: in the skies, in the music, and, perhaps most importantly, in the characters' hearts. The play has barely begun when you're bombarded with imagery reminding you that, in the cosmic scheme of things, you're but one piece of a much larger puzzle.
That idea is central to the play, one in which moral relativism, metaphysics, musical comedy, murder, and acrobatics interweave in any number of astounding and delightful ways. The speed with which Jumpers moves between the hilarious, the somber, and the profound is such that you may fear you'll develop whiplash from trying to follow it all.
But with director David Leveaux in charge, you needn't worry. Unlike his stagings of the recent Broadway revivals of Nine and Fiddler on the Roof, his work on Jumpers suggests a playfully creative mind ideally suited for the task: here, bringing Stoppard's philosophical comedy to accessible life. This production is not only bursting with detail and continuous forward motion, but it also seems - believe it or not - highly musical.
That's important with almost any play, but even more vital with Stoppard's works, which are frequently dense in the best of hands and unbearable in the worst. While Leveaux's production lends the work's comedy a buoyant, sparkly feel, the underlying heart is never sacrificed. There's an undercurrent of sadness and loss, yes, but Leveaux balances that and the show's brighter moments with pinpoint precision.
From the first scene, the production is beautifully composed. The celebration of the electoral victory of the Radical Liberal Party is a perfect representation of an upper-crust circus that seems to be about both everything and nothing. One of the soiree's guests is retired musical theatre star Dorothy Moore (Essie Davis), who can't keep straight the words to the song she's supposed to be singing about the moon. After a saucy striptease from a woman on a chandelier, there's a performance by the Incredible Radical Liberal Jumpers (a combination of acrobatic philosophers and philosophizing acrobats), the climax of which sees one of the performers shot dead.
It's a lot for any scene to tackle, though Leveaux and Stoppard stealthily set up the play's aural, visual, and characterological building blocks. Dorothy is critical, yes - she's built her career on singing about the moon, which has just been violated by British astronauts. And it's not long after that her academic husband George (Simon Russell Beale) appears and steals focus from her: he's absorbed in writing a lecture to be delivered at a debate entitled "Man: Good, Bad or Indifferent," and is struggling with issues as weighty as the difference between good and bad and whether there's a Supreme Being. Each is floating through space, searching for answers that can't easily be found in the other; he can't really communicate with her, she hasn't wanted him to touch her since the astronauts touched the moon.
It's that feeling of loss and of uncertainty that makes Jumpers feel so of the moment. Though written and first produced in the early 1970s (its short-lived Broadway premiere was in 1974), it never feels dated or stilted; it manages to tell its strong, farcical story while incorporating weighty issues set against a murder investigation. How many dramatists could accomplish all this without needing to keep the audience safely at arm's length?
Nearly everything about this production is inviting: Vicki Mortimer's sets are a shiny, attractive marvel; they're constantly in motion, revolving around the players the way much as the moon circles the earth. Nicky Gillibrand's costumes are a combination of universal glamour and earthy beauty, while Paule Constable's lights help present the action in a series of twinkling and ever-surprising ways.
There's a parodic quality to Aidan Treays's choreography for the Jumpers that helps highlight the production's sense of formal fun. Equally important is the live music, which has been composed by Corin Buckeridge (utilizing themes from songs like "Fly Me to the Moon"), and is played by a three-piece band conducted by Tim Weil. It proves an unexpectedly delightful (and necessary) contributor to the show's vibrant energy.
More important still are Beale and Davis, both of whom possess an abundance of otherworldly charm and humor just right for George and Dorothy. Davis is all sex and sinew, while Beale's charisma is of a more rarified variety, but the chemistry the two share is just right for anchoring the play. The supporting cast is also very good, with Eliza Lumley playing an expressive (yet mostly silent) secretary, Nicky Henson playing the multi-talented Archie Jumpers, John Rogan as an Everyman philosopher, and Nicholas Woodeson as the endlessly bemused (and amusing) investigator.
All these elements combine to make the play a stellar experience, a thoughtful and often hilarious meditation on where we are and where we're going, as only Tom Stoppard could write it. Stoppard and Leveaux make it easy to sit back and enjoy the ride as Jumpers takes you to the moon and back.