Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Highest Yellow

Also see Tracy's review of Miss Saigon and Susan's review of Ivanov

Jason Danieley and Marc Kudisch
Signature Theatre's latest offering is the world premiere of the John Strand-Michael John LaChiusa musical, The Highest Yellow. The piece follows the story of a young French doctor who is charged with the task of caring for a painter who has mutilated himself. The painter has cut off his ear. He is, of course, Vincent van Gogh.

This musical has potential but needs work. It explores feelings of obsession, unworthiness, and love. In dealing with van Gogh's possible mental illness, it also presents the idea that madness can be part of an artist's genius. However, the book doesn't always flow well and the use of certain obscenities in the second act seems out of place. Additionally, the total score is less than memorable, notwithstanding its strong title song, "The Highest Yellow."

There are times in the theater when the performances outshine the material and this is one of those times. Jason Danieley does a superb job of portraying the young Dr. Rey. He gives the character great depth and, as the show progresses, changes in the character's personality are subtle, then build to a crescendo.

Marc Kudisch's take on van Gogh is quite robust. One would expect a weak neurotic mess but Kudisch leads him in a different direction. This van Gogh is strong in his convictions despite his momentary lapses into madness. Kudisch is also in fine voice, and his performance of "The Highest Yellow" is quite stunning. His cast mate Judy Kuhn gives an excellent performance as Rachel, van Gogh's favorite prostitute. Vocally, she is wonderful and she dominates the stage each time she appears.

These actors are joined by a strong ensemble made up of Donna Migliaccio, Stephen Gregory Smith, R. Scott Thompson and Harry A. Winter. They all have fine moments and Donna Migliaccio is especially good during performance of "The Madam's Song."

The set by Walt Spangler is fairly simple, with white curtains that symbolize the hospital. Lighting by Daniel MacLean Wagner helps to intensify the feelings that are being conveyed on stage.

Audiences should note that there is some nudity in this production. However, it is not gratuitous. Ultimately, this show is about feeling. It is the feeling one experiences when they have a powerful urge. Whether it is to create or to love, the intensity is the same. However, in the midst of all this feeling, van Gogh himself gets lost in the story. It is a great loss to dismiss such an interesting character and his work. In the end the show fails to match the vibrancy found in the paintings this great artist created. The Highest Yellow runs through December 12th.

The Signature Theatre
The Highest Yellow
October 26th —December 12th
Book by John Strand
Music and Lyrics by Michael John LaChuisa
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
3806 S. Four Mile Run Drive
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-218-6500 or 1-800-955-5566 or

Cast List

Dr. Felix Rey: Jason Danieley
Vincent van Gogh: Marc Kudisch
Rachel: Judy Kuhn
Patient One/Nurse/Madame: Donna Migliaccio
Patient Two/Dr. Barrault: Stephen Gregory Smith
Patient Three/Inmate: R. Scott Thompson
Dr. Urpar: Harry A. Winter

Photo: Carol Pratt

-- Tracy Lyon

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.

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