Bridge Rep's "Hello Again": Theater in La Ronde

Sean Patrick Gibbons and Aubin Wise ("Hello Again")
(Photo: Marc J. Franklin)

The musical “Hello Again”, Bridge Rep’s current production, was first performed in New York in 1994, commissioned by Lincoln Center. With book, music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa (“Marie Christine”, “The Wild Party” and “See What I Wanna See”), it was almost sung-through, thus virtually an opera. Based on the 1897 play “La Ronde” by Arthur Schnitzler, who placed his work in the Vienna of the 1890’s, “Hello Again” is centered in the twentieth century. It consists of ten scenes covering ten decades, a chain of ten conversations leading to ten sexual dalliances between ten pairs of people. As with the Schnitzler source, each scene is linked by a character type from the previous scene until the first and last characters meet in the final section. They are all essentially on the same quest for a real emotional connection. This version is in a cabaret style setting, which proves quite appropriate for this intimate ninety minute, intermissionless piece. And speaking of “ten”, this cast rates a ten out of ten, as does this production, which certainly gives a whole new meaning to the term “immersive”.

We first encounter the title song accompanying a dance by The Whore (Lauren Eicher) and The Soldier (Sean Patrick Gibbons). Then The Nurse (Aubin Wise) contemplates the loss of her virginity to the Soldier in the songs “Zei Gezent” (with a nod to the Andrews Sisters), “I Gotta Little Time”, and “We Kiss”. The Nurse meets and conquers The College Boy (Andrew Spatafora) with the song “In Some Other Life”. He in turn hooks up with The Young Wife (Sarah Talbot) in a movie theater showing an Astaire/Rogers flick in the song “Story of My Life”. The Young Wife substitutes a pillow for herself next to The Husband (Jared Dixon) to the songs “At the Prom”, “Ah Maein Zeit!”, and “Tom”. Next LaChiusa puts a more modern spin when The Husband meets The (not-so-very-innocent) Young Thing (Spatafora) to the tune of “Listen to the Music”, and said Young Thing subsequently takes up with The Writer (Gibbons) with a series of songs, aboard the Titanic no less, “Montage”, “Safe”, and “The One I Love”. The Writer survives to be overtaken by The Actress (Wise) in the song “Silent Movie”. She then attempts to seduce The Senator (Dixon) with the songs “Rock with Rock”, “Angel of Mercy”, and “Mistress of the Senator”. Finally, the Senator encounters The Whore, with the song “The Bed Was Not My Own”, and a reprise of “Hello Again”, completing the cycle. The scenes aren’t chronological, but there are common threads and a ubiquitous brooch. By the time all the combinations and permutations have spun, there’s been a lot of sex, thankfully simulation rather than stimulation.

Just as the Off-Broadway conception was fundamentally a collaboration between LaChiusa and Choreographer Graciela Daniele, so here the production is an expertly collaborative effort, this time between Director Michael Bello and Choreographer Stephen Ursprung, as well as their technical crew. Their ingenious elements are all superb, especially given the limitations of the venue. The Scenic Design by Anne Sherer is spare but effective, as is the Lighting Design by Chris Bocchiaro. The Musical Direction by Mindy Cimini, Reeds by Thomas Carroll, and Percussion by Colin Fleming, are as harmonious as the musical score itself, covering several styles of music over the decades. The Costume Design by Kathleen Doyle is especially clever in keeping the chronology straight.

When seen in New York two decades ago, the work was a revelation, not just of LaChiusa’s brilliance, which has yet to catch on with critics or the general public to the extent that it should (it ran just over a hundred performances), but also of the several opportunities for actors to shine. That original cast of ten was a who’s-going-to-be-who; the same might well be said for this cast.

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