Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Songs for the Fallen


Songs for the Fallen
book by Sheridan Harbridge
Lyrics and Music by Basil Hogios and Sheridan Harbridge
directed by Shane Anderson
with:
Sheridan Harbridge
Simon Corfield
Garth Holcombe

Marie Duplessis, French, lived in the mid-19th-century. It’s the old story: poor girl becomes a courtesan, climbs the social ladder and then dies of consumption. Sound familiar? She was the inspiration for La Traviata, the movie Moulin Rouge! and any number of other works. Alexandre Dumas, fils, based La Dame aux Camélias (first a novel, then a play) on Marie, and since then she’s been found in – according to the program for Songs for the Fallen – 19 films, 16 plays, three ballets and “an endless list of musicals”

Songs for the Fallen is the latest in this endless list. It’s a cabaret musical – elaborate as a cabaret, simple as a musical. It comes from Australia, and it’s just been produced by The New York Musical Theater Festival. Running 80 minutes without intermission, it’s an outrageous burlesque, frivolous and great fun. Its book is by Sheridan Harbridge, with lyrics and music by Ms. Harbridge and Basil Hogios. Its cast consists of Ms. Harbridge as Mlle Duplessis and two gentlemen (Simon Corfield and Garth Holcombe) who play her lovers, her maid, and even Marie herself as a child.

This is a pop music show, and the nine musical numbers, sung mostly by the entire three-actor company, are appealing. The stage, which is quite small, is dominated by a round bed, which is quite large, on which the actors lie, stand, dance or otherwise make spectacles of themselves.

Marie is hardly ever confined to her salon, behind an unseen fourth wall. She’s here in the theater with us in 2015, referencing Garbo, Nicole Kidman and cultural icons. She plays with a lucky fellow in the front row. There’s a nearly unbroken shower of delightful, usually bawdy, flippancies.

The cast is first-rate. Ms. Harbridge gives a terrific performance. Her voice can do anything; sometimes it’s belting, sometimes fluttering. Her energy is unwavering. Joking and laughing nearly throughout, she invites us to have as much fun as she’s having.

The play’s not totally up-tempo, of course; there are sober moments. There are a couple of hallucinations, as the ailing courtesan remembers her childhood. They’re handled very well, and they create an important contrast. One of them presents three little Maries – Ms. Harbridge playing one and the two gentlemen playing the others.

For the most part, the director, Shane Anthony, keeps everything allegro. But as manic as the show gets, it never loses control of itself. It’s fine-tuned throughout. There’s a strobe and a pillow fight and some manic dancing, and by the end of the play the stage is strewn with feathers and glitter. We want more musicals like this!