“The Glorious Ones”

Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, New York • 19 October 2007 • 8pm [preview]
Book & Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens. Music: Stephen Flaherty. Based on the novel by Francine Prose.

Direction & Choreography by Graciela Daniele. With Marc Kudisch (Flaminio Scala), Natalie Venetia Belcon (Columbina), Jeremy Webb (Francesco Andreini), Erin Davie (Isabelle Andreini), Julyana Soelistyo (Armanda Ragusa), David Patrick Kelly (Pantalone), John Kassir (Dottore).

There’s always something exciting about a Flaherty & Ahrens musical, because these two authors have a knowledge and understanding of the history of musicals that inform their work. That doesn’t mean they try to copy the musicals of the past; it means they know the territory they’re trying to expand.The Glorious Ones tells the touching story of a Commedia dell’Arte troupe in Italy at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries. While not completely conventional in form, it remains largely linear. I think it spends too much time introducing the various characters instead of finding a way for them to introduce themselves indirectly in the course of the play.

Graciela Daniele’s staging is a treat: it displays energy, inventiveness and a true sense of theatricality. The setting, of course, is the wooden stage of a travelling troupe. (I kept thinking it looked like the setting for a Schmidt & Jones musical.) The cast, led by the remarkable Marc Kudisch, give a tremendous performance.

The score is delightful but strongly reminiscent of earlier Flaherty & Ahrens musicals, especially Ragtime. There’s even a song that rhymes “silhouette” and “pirouette,” two words that stand prominently in the lyrics of Ragtime.

The Glorious Ones might not be perfect, but it’s an enjoyable and literate effort and an ode to the theatre and to comedy. It won’t open for another couple of weeks, so it’s likely to be even better then.

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