‘Here We Are’ Overview: The Extreme Sondheim, Cool and Impossibly Elegant newsfragment


Stephen Sondheim had a sharp for style. A few of his best possible works have been tailored from very area of interest resources like penny dreadfuls (“Sweeney Todd”), epistolary novels (“Passion”) and Roman comedies (“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”). Leaning withered into their particular kinds, he mined their expressive attainable in songs that might infrequently be advanced and not sounded homogeneous.

Nonetheless, for him and for others, surrealism was once continuously a style too a ways. Musical theater is surreal plethora already. (Why did that taciturn guy get started making a song? Who’re the ones dancing girls in underwear?) Development a display on a willfully irrational supply dangers doubling i’m sick at the weirdness, well-known to “Huh?” effects like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” and Sondheim’s personal “Anyone Can Whistle.”

In order we waited what gave the impression of many years for what would turn into his ultimate musical, by no means moderately figuring out if he’d ditched it or now not, the dribbles of knowledge he and his collaborators let reduce recommended that the unutilized display — eventually titled “Here We Are” — could be misbegotten.

No longer simplest are the 2 Luis Buñuel motion pictures that Sondheim and the playwright David Ives took as their inspiration maximally surrealist, they’re additionally surreal in numerous, reputedly incompatible techniques. “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972) is a shiny romp a few team of pals who, in the hunt for a meal, are mysteriously not able to seek out one. “The Exterminating Angel” (1962) is a far darker affair, about a cocktail party nobody can let fall. Each motion pictures ridicule aristocrats who’re underfed but over-sated: nation for whom not anything is ever plethora. However one is just like the silky tartness of a lemon meringue pie and the alternative like hen bones caught to your throat.

The most efficient just right information about “Here We Are,” the combination platter Buñuel musical that opened on Sunday on the Leave, just about two years then Sondheim’s loss of life in November 2021, is that it justifies the speculation of merging those two works and succeeds in creating a surrealist musical expressive. In Joe Mantello’s breathtakingly sublime and comely manufacturing, with a solid of can-you-top-this Broadway treasures, it’s by no means not up to a relief to look at because it optimistically polishes and embraces its illogic. Musically, it’s absolutely if a negligible skimpily Sondheim, and fully reliable of his catalog. That it’s also a little bit chilly, simplest infrequently shifting in the way in which that tune would preferably permit, might talk to the explanation he had so much trouble writing it.

The primary occupation, about an year lengthy and with in all probability seven numbers — although it’s withered to depend as a result of they weave out and in of the discussion — introduces us to Ives’s American variations of Buñuel’s French gourmands from “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.” Leo Breaking point (Bobby Cannavale) is a crass mogul and Marianne Breaking point (Rachel Bay Jones) a community decorator; their Saturday morning is interrupted when 4 in their circle start on the couple’s hyper-sleek condo, insisting they’ve been invited for brunch.

The interlopers come with Paul Zimmer (Jeremy Shamos), a plastic surgeon celebrating his 1,000th nostril activity, and his spouse, Claudia Bursik-Zimmer (Amber Grey), an agent, she brays, for “a major entertainment entity.” In conjunction with them are Raffael Santello Di Santicci (Steven Pasquale), the horndog ambassador from a Mediterranean nation known as Moranda, and Fritz (Micaela Diamond), Marianne’s bitter more youthful sister, a modern with champagne tastes.

Ives briefly and amusingly delineates the six with particular and virtually universally obnoxious characteristics. Raffael, who butchers his English, and Claudia, fast to drag rank, have a weekly assignation in the back of Paul’s again; Paul and Leo run a drug cartel with Raffael’s ambassadorial backup. Fritz is a tablet. As they journey at the highway on the lookout for a meal, accompanied through a Sondheim vamp that begins out marvelously jaunty and ends like H2O swirling i’m sick a drain, each and every unearths worse and worse characteristics, apart from for Marianne, who is simply too dull to be venal. When she asks her husband to “buy this perfect day” for her, it sort of feels much less acquisitive than sentimental.

The adjustments of surroundings as they consult with numerous institutions that includes outré waiters (Tracie Bennett and Denis O’Hare) in ever extra ludicrous wigs (through Robert Pickens and Katie Gell) are achieved with quick grace on David Zinn’s brightness white field of a collection, as neon marquees descend from the flies and next descend additional to mode tables or banquettes. (Zinn’s costumes also are telegraphic, together with Leo’s velour sweatsuit and Claudia’s sky-high pink Fendis.) The theme-and-variations structure is captivating, permitting Sondheim, the admirable puzzler, to regard songs virtually as anagrams. Sooner or later, along side 3 alternative characters they pick out up — a colonel (Francois Battiste), a soldier (Jin Ha) and a bishop (David Hyde Pierce) — the group lands, through now ravenous, at Raffael’s embassy, the place they dine as Operate I ends.

Right here the musical hinges into “The Exterminating Angel,” simplest rather of a fully other poised of characters (Buñuel’s have been Spanish, residing below Franco), Ives, in a neat piece of joinery, continues with Leo and Marianne and the others. It’s they who in finding it not possible to let fall then dinner, and finish up, in Operate II, snoozing, bickering and in the end combating over meals scraps as their metaphysical entrapment persists for days. Ives additionally complicates Buñuel’s antifascist, anti-bourgeois glee, by which plutocrats are uncovered as pigs, through implicating the revolution as smartly; Fritz seems to be much less of a blackmail to her personal approach of occasion than she meant.

Sharp as all this is, the windup has issues, as is correct for plenty of unutilized displays discovering their ultimate situation. To form the characters in “Here We Are” reliable of punishment in the second one occupation has intended making them too clearly catastrophic within the first. Their brutishness all over additionally shall we us off Buñuel’s hook: His motion pictures are about nation whose sophistication and throwaway source of revenue we must acknowledge, however “Here We Are,” which infrequently looks like a butterfly field, is ready nation we don’t dare to.

Had Sondheim written extra songs for Operate II — there are only a few, bunched firstly — that sickness would possibly were eased. After all, Mantello and Ives made up our minds to reframe the shortage as a chance. Ahead of his loss of life, Sondheim it seems that yes with them that the dearth of songs in truth made structural sense: As soon as trapped in a repeating nightmare of deprivation, those characters would don’t have any explanation why to sing. However next why stock those he’d already written?

In all probability for the reason that songs he did incrible are the whole lot you need to need them to be. There are fewer trick rhymes than ordinary, however laugh-out-loud jokes nevertheless. A rhapsodic love tune for the soldier and a paean to superficiality for Marianne — “I want things to gleam./To be what they seem/And not what they are” — have the habitual Sondheimian intensity and luster to crystallize complicated insights.

Despite the fact that we sorely omit that during Operate II, and particularly on the tried triple lutz of an finishing (which is almost certainly two lutzes too many), Ives, the creator of “Venus in Fur” and innumerable genius comedies, has accomplished a lot to compensate. A few of his discussion scenes — together with a riveting colloquy between the questing Marianne and the wondering bishop — have the situation, rhythm and sorrowful wit of a Sondheim tune. (Jones and Pierce are standouts within the magnificient solid.) Additionally lovingly filling in blanks are the musical manager, Alexander Gemignani, and Sondheim’s longtime orchestrator, Jonathan Tunick, who’ve organized topics from the sooner a part of the display as instrumental interludes to take in the slack within the upcoming section.

You’ll be able to perceive their aid. Pending the invention of a few unpublished juvenilia or but some other iteration of the penultimate “Road Show,” that is the ultimate Sondheim musical we will be able to ever have. That unloved makes the manufacturing historical, a drive that thankfully does now not display within the product, which is fleet and flashy. Natasha Katz’s lights, Tom Gibbons’s pitch and Sam Pinkleton’s droll choreography do a batch of the big lifting for Mantello’s schedule.

Extra notable, “Here We Are” is as experimental as Sondheim all over his profession sought after the whole lot to be. To swim via its currents of echoes of previous paintings — some “Anyone Can Whistle,” some “Passion,” some “Merrily We Roll Along” — is to know the characters’ monstrous insatiability. We, too, will at all times need extra, even if we’ve had what through any cheap requirements must already be greater than plethora.

Right here We Are
Thru Jan. 21 on the Leave, New york; theshed.org. Operating moment: 2 hours and 20 mins.


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