By Betsyann Faiella

The absolutely superb talents of Kelli O’Hara as Kirsten Arnesen and Brian D’Arcy James as Joe Clay have a lot to sink their teeth into here with a book by Craig Lucas, and score by Adam Guettel that is unpredictable, demanding, jazzy, beautiful, odd and affecting. It almost seems to conjure spontaneous “stream of consciousness” performances. The music leaps octaves, leaps moods, and plays with rhythm. The lyrics are haunting and intensely personal.

After rushing into a boozy romance, we find Joe Clay (James) and Kirsten Arnesen (O’Hara) are a married couple in the grip of addiction. The rush into alcoholism is my one criticism about the show. It’s kind of a meet-cringe and then, boom. The time allotted and dialogue don’t quite set up this unlikely duo and unlikely outcome. But the attraction Kirsten has to Joe might be found in the song,  “There Go I” :

“…danger, hazard, make me happy…don’t know why…if it makes little sense…I want it so… there go I.”

For Joe, well, he takes a chance at class: Kirsten is beautiful and educated. For a time, they make sense for each other.

Their early years together become somewhat glamorous – with their pairing comes some success. But as the drinking becomes a dawn-‘til-dusk affair they lose their grip, Joe loses jobs, and then the heartbreaking pattern of “cutting down,” trying to quit, falling off the wagon and getting up again that characterizes the lives of many addicts, begins. Kirsten is terrified to stop and terrified to lose her husband and daughter, Lila (Tabitha Lawing). Joe gets the help of AA (not named in this version), and though he has a relapse, he commits himself to sobriety and the care of Lila, and forgives himself and his wife, who doesn’t want to shake the habit.

This work is very intimate. There is no melodrama, and it focuses totally on the relationship of these few people (daughter Lila and Kirsten’s father who is ably played by Byron Jennings), but mainly on Joe and Kirsten. Every set is scaled to support the intimacy and though sets are designed to reflect the period, they do that without ever begging our attention.

Since there is very little unsung dialogue, throughout the music are the keys to Joe and Kirsten’s decisions, fears, resentments. In ”Underdeath,” Kirsten implores Lila never to get as low as her mother goes every day. “First Breath” is when we get a glimpse of Kirsten as she once was, sober and optimistic, without the chains of alcoholism, relishing the air, her family, her home. This song is heartbreaking, because as anyone who has ever lived with an alcoholic will tell you, when they’re sober, they really want to be sober. They really mean it.

Kirsten’s fear and disappointment in losing her drinking companion is told in “Morton Salt Girl.” Her husband has to learn to forgive her and himself and he sings about this in “Forgiveness.”  All of this music and more is deftly conducted by Kimberly Grigsby.

My theater companion said afterward, “What an odd subject for a musical!” I thought, “Yes, perhaps it is, but what a great opera!” Minus classic arias, this is a wonderful subject and script and cast for an opera. In fact, it has been widely described as an opera. I would indeed love to see this with Kelli O’Hara and Brian D’Arcy James at the Met at Lincoln Center.

Days of Wine and Roses on Broadway is a work of astonishing artistry, sophistication and emotional depth. From the music and lyrics by Adam Guettel the book by Craig Lucas, the direction by Michael Greif, to the performances by O’Hara and James, it is up there in my top two shows. The other was Light In the Piazza, and you know who wrote that.

Days of Wine and Roses – Book by Craig Lucas, Music and Lyrics by Adam Guettel, Directed by Michael Greif
Choreography Sergio Trujillo and Karla Puno Garcia, Music Direction by Kimberly Grigsby
WITH Kelli O’Hara, Brian D’Arcy James, Byron Jennings, Tabitha Lawing

Scenic Design by Lizzie Clachan, Costume design by Dede Ayite, Lighting design by Ben Stanton, Sound Design by Kai Harada, Orchestrations by Adam Guettel and Jamie Lawrence, Hair and Wigs by David Brian Brown
Based on the teleplay by JP Miller and the 1962 Warner Bros. film.
Produced by special arrangement with Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures
Producers: Kevin McCollum, Mark Cortale, and Sing Out, Louise! Productions

at Studio 54 through April 28th, 2024.|