One must admire and respect the ambition and aspirations of the Roundabout Theatre Company to produce an original musical “The People in the Picture” written by Iris Rainer Dart (book and lyrics) with music by Mike Stoller & Artie Butler with some period songs by Mark Warshavsky. It’s a valiant effort that only partially succeeds. The pieces of this Picture fail to come together to make a satisfying whole.
Starring the amazingly gifted Donna Murphy as Bubbie, the aging and sickly but still sharp as a tack (despite some forgetfulness) grandmother of Jenny (the talented Rachael Resheff) who wants to share family history and traditions (up to a point) with her grandchild while her troubled daughter Red (Nicole Parker) earns a living writing for television while attempting to put Bubbie in a nursing facility for all the best reasons for everyone involved.
In relating her history – Bubbie, in flash back, becomes Raisel the leading lady of The Warsaw Gang – a Yiddish Theater troupe of entertainers in pre war Poland that include Chayesel Fisher an aging star (Joyce Van Patten) two comics: Yossie Pinsker (Chip Zien) & Avram Krinsky (Lewis J. Stadlen still doing Groucho), leading man Chaim Bradovsky (Christopher Innvar), gay tenor Moishe Rosenwald (Alexander Gemignani) and Hal Robinson as Doovie Feldman its director. All dead now but appearing in the present as ghosts.
Donna Murphy morphs instantaneously between her two selves aided by the wonderfully fluid direction of Leonard Foglia and musical staging by Andy Blankenbuehler who delivers a bizarre ghetto ballet that open Act II and a weird “The Dancing Dybbuk”.
With all the horrors happening the troupe tries to provide some laughter and it is not until the more dramatic second act that we find out what has caused the strained relationship between Bubbie and her daughter Red (Nicole Parker) – who has a most wonderful stage presence and voice.
The story, told in broad strokes, tugs at your heartstrings and it is only because of the honest, heartfelt and comic performance of Donna Murphy that it doesn’t become completely sentimental or mawkish.
She sings an extremely touching “Selective Memory” as she deals with her growing dementia and the all important message is brought forth in “We Were Here” a wonderful song that reminds us all to never forget the horrors of the Holocaust.
At Studio 54. www.roundabouttheatre.org Photo: Joan Marcus
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