A theater company that starts a season with a world premiere is tops in my book, and Heritage Artists has given us a provocative, tuneful drama that is like nothing else you’re bound to see in the coming months – here and on Broadway.
Based on a 1967 play by Frank Gilroy, itself a version of the Greek legend of Phaedra, Angelina presents a portrait of a woman in a loveless marriage who becomes obsessed with her husband’s bastard son, a charming teenager who arrives unexpectedly one summer.
Set in New York’s Little Italy in 1963, James Wolk’s stage design shuttles us between Mulberry Street and an apartment thereon, with an ever-watchful trio of neighbors observing from above.
Music is the heart of a musical, and Kleinbort has written a score that is rich in melody and never seems to stop – there are some 20 numbers in the show. What’s missing from the score is the kind of focus that sets a Tosca or Mimi alive: Angelina’s character and conflict isn’t effectively observed through song, and her moments of bonding with her stepson (“Coffee on the Stove,” “Lezione”) are too superficial.
I suspect it was a tired cast that performed last Saturday afternoon, however. Michael Curran played Steve as not much more than a puzzled fashion plate, never showing passion. He’s thrust into a whirlwind romance with neighbor Josie (Denise Ashlynd in a terrific performance) that failed to spark.
The relationship between Steve and his just-discovered father, Victor, had much more depth to it and was much more effective. And Alfred Toigo brings a dynamic stage presence to a meaty part, capturing the essence of the old-fashioned Italian dad.
Loria Parker plays Angelina’s aunt with the same assured Little Italy feel. She’s given what little comedy is in the show, and carries it off without betraying her character’s dignity.
It’s a classic triangle, but the relationships among the three were somewhat overwhelmed by the busy, exciting context. A trio of Steve’s buddies gives the piece its best flavor of the streets, and Vito, the leader of that group, is played with nonstop energy by Robert Montano. Director David Holdgrive shows his choreographic stuff with dance routines that have a West Side Story flavor.
Angelina is a classical tragedy, and we know and expect that, but the finale still seems to arrive with unexpected fury. The Greek tale has the usual deus ex machina; this show ends instead with a machine from the gods. All of which would be more plausible if we could explore the emotional ups and downs of the principles more intensely: we need to laugh more, and we need to be taken farther into the characters’ confidences.
As a work that will be further developed, Angelina has plenty to recommend it. It’s been easy to forget that intelligence and musical theater can coexist what with all the gadgety shows dominating Broadway recently; I’m rooting for this one to go places.
Performances continue at the Cohoes Music Hall through Nov. 19.
Angelina, by Barry Kleinbort
Directed by David Holdgrive; Cohoes Music Hall, Oct. 28
– Metroland Magazine, 2 November 1989