By ALICE JANE KLUGHERZ
This is a theatre plus dance and music piece that chronicles the life of the composer Tchaikovsky – in long hand. “Tchaikovsky” is a heartfelt effort from a team of artists taking on the life, loves and music of a complicated genius. The piece is three and a half hours with one 15 minute intermission: if you go, plan for four hours from entering the theatre to exiting. Tchaikovsky had a troubled childhood with the added struggle of living at a time when being gay put you at risk of being banished or jailed. He lost his mother early in life, he was depressed, his fame did not make him happy, he married a woman he did not know or like and, worst of all, he could not fully accept his own homosexuality. Funny how history repeats itself with the “new” Russian anti-gay laws having just reared their ugly heads – according to the BBC News from August 17, 2012, “Moscow’s top court has ruled that no gay pride parades may be held in Moscow for 100 years”. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19293465
This decree-like rule from last year even sounds like it’s from Tchaikovsky’s time. At the start of this show the writer producer Andrew Wyeth Neal comes out to tell us we are going to learn the real story of Tchaikovsky. But wait, didn’t Ken Russell’s movie (from 1971) cover some of the same territory? It is true, that in looking back at Vincent Canby’s review from the same year, he does mention that Ken Russell’s movie about Tchaikovsky’s life, “The Music Lovers”, departs from the facts in several important places. Also, according to two sources, Ken Russell described his movie this way: “It’s the story of the marriage between a homosexual and a nymphomaniac.” We can hardly call this total coverage of this great composer’s life.
To get to the “newly” uncovered facts Andrew Wyeth Neal has done painstaking research about Tchaikovsky. But unfortunately, putting everything into the play makes for a slow trip going toward the painful demise of this great composer. As a result the show makes all local stops with no end in sight. The theatre was hot, the acting for the most part was stagey and one dimensional. The script, telegraphed the story as opposed to having us watch it happen. This is very cute when watching your child playing a tree that talks; “I am the tree”; not so in a production that is almost four hours long. I confess a kind of giddiness came over me as the actors moved the furniture, including a piano, on and off the stage after each scene. For much of the play our main character is ill and as it went on and on it became quite humorous to watch him very sick one minute (“old” Tchaikovsky, played by Tom Burka who was the best one of the bunch) get up and, with the help of the other actors, move the bed.
And why was there so much “moving” in this play? They were constantly clearing the stage for the dance sequences set to Tchaikovsky’s music. So the piece was a layer cake of scenes, with piano music played live, singing and dancing. The musicians and music were excellent and the dancing was heartfelt and for the most part well done. There was a lot of emoting by some of the male dancers that was really unnecessary. The choreography, although a bit bigger in scope than the theatre could accommodate, was good. The dancer Quimen Sanchez contorted his face and made it all too plain that he was playing the torment of Tchaikovsky. It was distracting and took away from the overall effect of choreography that otherwise worked within the context of the story and was interesting to watch.
I think some of the acting problems that seemed so egregious would have been helped by cutting the play in half and getting the actors to say their lines loud enough for us to hear. I felt that Tristan Cano, who played Tchaikovsky most of the time, combined an indirect focus with a steady stream of emoting that, unlike his wonderful piano playing only hit one note. Granted, this was opening night, so there were all sorts of misfires. But this is a case of biting off way more than anyone can chew. The aforementioned bed was moved on and off the stage so many times that I felt like it had become a character in itself and needed some lines.
I began to think that it was a play that wanted to be a movie; so that it could seamlessly move from scene to scene without all the furniture hefting by the actors.
American Theatre of Actors – Chernuchin Theatre
314 West 54th Street New York, NY 10019
The entrance to the theatre is in the same building as the court house, by the police station. As you enter, walk down the hall straight towards the elevator and go up to the 2nd floor.
August 29th – Sept 1st 2013
Thursday, August 29th at 8PM
Friday, August 30th at 8PM
Saturday, August 31st at 8PM
Sunday, September 1st at 2PM
Sunday, September 1st at 8PM
The Cast: OLD TCHAIKOVSKY – Tom Burka, MIDDLE AGED TCHAIKOVSKY – Tristan Cano, MODEST TCHAIKOVSKY – David Morrisey, VLADMIR DAVIDOV – Killian Lock, ALEKSEY APUKHTIN – Jonathan Weirich, NADEZHDA VON MECK – Erin Mairead O’Kane,
ANTONINA MILYUKOVA – Alisa Ermolaev, DR. VASILI BERTENSEN – Brandon DeSpain, DR. LIEV BERTENSEN – David Bodenschat, ALEXANDRA – Ashley Thaxton, EDUARD ZAK – Tyler Coughlin
IOSEF KOTEK – Glenn Richards, IVAN VSEVOLOZHSKY – Paul David Miller, GEORGE VON MECK – Victor Fernandes, OTTO VON MECK -Eugene Lin, NIKOLAY JACOBI – John Trujillo, ANDREYEVNA TCHAIKOVSKY- Isabel Mareş, YOUNG TCHAIKOVSKY – Jack
Cesarano, DUKE STENBOK-FERMOR – Andrew Wyeth Neal, HEADMASTER – Mike Cesarano
BALLET DANCERS: Pasqualino Beltempo, John Segundo, Quimen Sanchez, Nina Deacon, Dona Wiley and Natlia Sheptalova.
Playwright & Producer: Andrew Wyeth Neal, Director: Rob Belchere, Nancy Whyte: Choreographer, Nina Deacon: Asst. Choreographer, Brant Thomas: Lighting Designer, Autumn Hyun: Costume Designer,Anastasios “Taso” Megaris: Set Designer, Corinne Woods: Stage Manager, Stephanie Colombo: Costume Technician,Sam Knoll: Costume Technician, Paul White: Costume Technician, Zach Merritt: Set Technician, Patrick Fay: Sound Technician.