Sunday, October 19, 2003

Discordia (Cleveland Public Theatre)

'DISCORDIA' in world premiere at Cleveland Public Theatre

Creating a musical from scratch is a daunting task. Musical theatre is the most complex of the arts. It combines the format of a drama or comedy. It requires music, much like a symphony or band. There are the lyrics, the words to the songs, much like a pop or country singer needs. Choreography parallels the part of musicals that make it like ballet or modern dance. Art in the form of sets and costumes is also needed. Then, the production must be staged using actors to create characters and develop the intent and purpose of the creators and a band or orchestra must be rehearsed.

It is amazing that so many musicals get written and staged.

‘DISCORDIA,’ in its world premiere at Cleveland Public Theatre, is the brain-child of James Levin and Linda Eisenstein. According to the theatre’s public relations notes, ‘DISCORDIA’ tells the story of the innocent Percival as he searches for the Holy Grail, trying to do good in dangerous, confusing times. It is billed as an “astutely observed political satire.”

The production introduces the audience to the necessity for delivering democracy to all the world, the role of God and prayer, toxic waste and the environment, a country in disarray, the role of the drug industry in controlling prices, weapons of mass destruction, the Arabic fatah, Human Rights, big business as our savior, “protecting” countries even if they don’t want the protection (think Iraq and Afghanistan), right wing pseudo manners, and the philosophy of spending as a requirement to national success. Also touched upon is the question of whether the leader, King Arthur in this case, has limited intelligence. There is a rebuke of a political party for having control of the Presidency, the House and Senate and for not taking advantage of their chance to make a difference, (Think Clinton and universal health care.) And then we encounter a search for a Knight to lead us out of our present abyss. (Think the present race for a Democratic candidate.) The story asks who the grail serves, who benefits from the “things,” the money, the requirement to spend, spend, spend. The concept centers on the constant chanted mantra, “Arthur, God, Shopping.”

Sound like a lot to cover in two and-half hours? It is! The story line covers so much that it doesn’t take time to develop any of them in depth, often leaving the audience tired and confused.

Linda Eisenstein’s music is excellent; however, it too covers too much of the musical spectra. The musical sound of ballads, chanting, folk songs, blues, vaudeville patter and rock are all presented. Her strength is the ballads. Songs like “Mother, I Found My Calling,” “The Presence of the Grail,” and “Take Off Your Armour” are excellent. “Whom Does It Serve” is probably the best message song in the score.

Director Raymond Bobgan, who staged last year’s Times Tribute Award production of “Tibetan Book of the Dead”has added some excellent production qualities . Unfortunately, because of the expanse of the play, even Bobgan loses his course.

The cast is uneven. Alison Hernan as Morgan Le Fay, who offers the perspective on the play, has both a powerful singing voice and develops a clear character. Perren Hedderson as Percival, who is on a quest, has a very pleasant singing voice and the physical attractiveness and acting ability to play young leading man roles. (Think ‘PIPPIN’ and ‘JOSEPH AND HIS TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT.) Amiee Collier as Percival’s lady love has a very nice singing voice. Jill Levin as the announcer and our guide through the maze of ideas, speaks and sings well. The choral sounds are fine. Much of the others are just not up to the task of grasping their characterizations and singing their roles.

Michael Flohr’s music direction is on target. His musicians don’t drown out the singers and are musically competent. Trad Burns’ scenic design works well considering the number of settings that are required. Inda Blatch-Geib’s costumes leave much to be desired except for Hernan’s excellent clothing. The designs are often unflattering on the female body types in the production.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘DISCORDIA’ is a gallant attempt at developing a musical. Unfortunately, it just has too many problems to work in its present form. It is not unusual for authors to relook at and rework their material to make it successful. Let’s hope that that’s the case with ‘DISCORDIA.’