|'A New Musical' is still the tagline Wicked pops out every now and then.|
A few factors contributed to me checking out the show. I first heard about Zhivago when the show opened with little fanfare in Sydney during February this year, and I was intrigued to hear that the show would be re-opening and making its official debut in Australia. I admit my interest was hooked by the artwork - I'm a sucker for any esoteric visual design, especially those that involve eyes casting enigmatic gazes (Alegria, Zed). The cast of Anthony Warlow and Lucy Maunder is a great combination and it's always worthwhile to see Warlow in anything. Since Glee has revived an interest in musicals, I wanted to treat Anj to something special and different for her birthday, so off we went. Since it was a matinee on a Wednesday, I wasn't expecting to see many glamorously dressed people - as it turned out, we were the only 2 people (as fas as we could see) who were 'young'. Anj proclaimed in our check in that we were "representing the under 80s". It would be more accurate to say under 40s, but that would be the truth - the musical clearly isn't attracting the same audience that Wicked drew in, which is regrettable because the huge following Wicked got I was hoping would open people up to better musicals. Then again, Brisbane never manages to get the audiences that the cultural capitals do. If you don't like musicals, or you're not sure about them, then this certainly isn't the piece to show up to and hope to enjoy.
On a whole, the musical is charming, and very effectively conjures up a nostalgic atmosphere through the transcendence of time of the political advances in Russia. Although I knew the musical was based off the very famous novel by Boris Pasternak, I haven't had a chance to read the book yet, and I decided I would watch the musical without reading a synopsis to see how well the plot is explained. [Spoilers until paragraph ends] The plot centres around the work of a doctor called Yurii Zhivago, who enters the service of the army during the first world war. There, he is the only doctor working until he is joined by the lovely Lara, and they both slowly fall in love. At the end of the war, Zhivago returns to his wife Tonia to find that Marxism and communism has spread to Moscow, and they have lost their position in society. Persecuted by the communists who discourage his science, Zhivago and his family move to a rustic village in the country. He is then taken into the communist army again, and eventually meets up with Lara after Tonia flees to Paris. From there, Zhivago and Lara live together briefly, before Zhivago sends Lara to escape Russia and he dies healing the sick back in Moscow.
|Lara (Lucy Maunder) and Zhivago (Anthony Warlow) perform the ballad 'Now'. Just look at that hair line.|
The downfall of this show is the score - which seems inconceivable. A musical where the only bad aspect is the music? I can count the number of female composers I know of on one hand (yes, I know there are many more female composers than 5, but the average person can't even give me one name). Lucy Simons joins the ranks of female composers along side Elena Kats-Chernin, Violaine Corradi and Kumi Tanioka, and unlike her predecessors, her score for Doctor Zhivago is pretty uneven. On a whole, the music is lovely but very pedestrian. The score seems to aim to fuse traditional Russian musical roots with the sounds of a fairytale or lullaby. The sound is distinctive, a strongly orchestrated score which evokes the patriotism and idiosyncrasies of Russia which is, sometimes imposing, but always nostalgic and regal. There are some really lovely moments, such as Zhivago and Lara's tender moment during 'Now', and the gorgeous melody and flawless cast work of 'In This House', which closes Act One. I remember liking the opening of Act Two but clearly it was quite forgettable, and likewise I remember the excellent use of harmonies and five (!) part performance during 'Love Finds You'. I remember liking 'It Comes As No Surprise', which is a duet between Zhivago's two women and is very pretty, but inexcusably tries to get away with rhyming 'wife' with 'surprise'.
Unlike modern marvels such as Passion or Parade, the lyrics are corny and are quite pandering. Michael Korie and Amy Powers work together to write the libretto, and I get the feeling that one is better than the other. If I had to sum up my initial feelings on the lyrics, I'd say they're generic, uninspired and predictable. I recall some of them being okay, others passable, but mostly they're boring and muddy. The common clichés such as rhyming 'die' with 'eye', and 'you' with 'do' are cringe worthy, but the other material we end up with are throwaway lines that aren't really interesting or stimulating. Without such an important element, the songs in the show can't take you past a shallow and generic emotional journey.
|The best song of the show, but I can't remember how it goes. 'In This House'|
The technical aspects of this production are simply a marvel, and the creative team working on the show have an impressive range of relatively newcomers to life-long veterans - it's the best result you could get when designing a show. McAnuff has managed to retain the interest of the audience without the music by carefully balancing the other elements together. Unlike the clumsy lyrics, Michael Weller's book has some thought provoking moments and some excellent lines (one sticking in my head is when Lara laughs hollowly and says "Innocent love? I'd like to know what that feels like"). The show is centred in Michael Scott-Mitchell's sporadically furnished set, evoking a feeling of oppressiveness with a floor paten that is characterised by slanting and angular designs to manipulate the view of the set. Working in excellent conjunction, Damien Cooper's soft and evocative lighting perfectly compliments the time and set and some of the best moments of the show involve beautiful little snow flakes flashing and twinkling on stage. Teresa Negroponte's work on costumes perfectly capture the era, and Kelly Devine's choreography is very prim and proper when its utilised. The team working on sound include include the fabulous prolific Eric Stern and Danny Troob working together on arrangements and orchestrations - I remember thinking that some moments of the score sounded like a Disney fairytale, so it was no surprise when I saw that Troob wrote and conducted music for many Disney related projects. Kellie Dickerson, Ben van Tienen and Michael Waters all function perfectly in utilising the sound design and the direction of the music, and there wasn't a moment where you couldn't hear anything. Overall, I'm thrilled with the team and presentation of this musical.
|The Opening of the show - I'd have a real description but I can't remember what happened here.|
Tickets for 'Doctor Zhivago ' range from $59.90 to $140.90 (plus a $5 booking fee, so make sure you get them to send the tickets to you so that it covers the postage cost), and is showing until July 31st. Book by visiting Doctor Zhivago Official Website or by calling (07) 136 246.