Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Of course, Sarah is not the central figure of the musical by Patti McKenny and Doug Frew (book and lyrics) and Linda Eisenstein (music). That is George Sand (Kat' Taylor), the 19th-century Frenchwoman who first was notorious for wearing slacks and smoking cigars, then became beloved for her prolific writing and her political advocacy. While her story seems eminently dramatic, the show wanders a bit as the cast and director Brett Smock do their best to keep it on course.
The time is 1870, as Sand attempts to produce her female version of Faust with Sarah in the title role. The first clash of wills comes from Sand's conception of a woman strong enough to fight the devil; in contrast, director Alexandre Dumas the younger (Greg Violand), author of La Dame aux Camelias, prefers a fainting heroine.
This story, however, is peripheral to the main action, which involves Sand's reaction to the provocation of a war against Germany by Emperor Napoleon III. (Sand's sharp remarks about the emperor's government plotting "a pointless war to cover its own corruption" may have some contemporary resonance.) As war clouds gather, a prince (Brian Childers) who admires Sand's work accompanies her, Sarah, and Dumas to Sand's country estate, where he attempts to make friends with the servants (Mary Jayne Raleigh, Jason Hentrich) and pursues the lovely Sarah.
This synopsis may demonstrate the problem with Becoming George: it tries to do too much in too little time. The score, while pleasant, is all over the place, incorporating Sand's jaunty recounting of her professional beginnings ("Go Where the Girls Can't Go") and her moody reminiscence of her affair with Frederic Chopin ("Letters to the Night"); Dumas' determination to step out of the shadow of his famous father ("Not Monte Cristo"); an inspirational fable shared by the maid ("Black Valley Dragon"); and the flirtation between Sarah and the prince ("How to Dance with a Prince").
Taylor succeeds in making Sand a figure to be reckoned with, utterly determined, sometimes wounded, but fearless. She even manages to pull off a few easy gags about Victor Hugo's ridiculous idea of turning Les Miserables into a play, "and he even wants to put in some songs!" The other actors have less nuanced characters, except for Childers, who works hard to bring together the contradictions he is forced to play.
Musical director Michael D. Flohr does capably with a six-piece ensemble (piano, cello, two oboes, trumpet, percussion). Jen Price captures the sense of the era with a few well-chosen pieces of furniture and some fragments of landscape in Impressionist style, matched by the lighting design by Matthew J. Fick. Howard Kurtz's costumes are sumptuous and beautifully detailed.