Sunday, February 28, 2010

Theatre review: "Time After Time" at Pittsburgh Playhouse-Sunday 28th February 2010

You don’t have much time left to delight in the extraordinary and exceptional world-premiering musical Time After Time at Pittsburgh Playhouse. In fact you have only four days. They are March 11th to 14th. Not this coming week. That’s because the production features students of the Conservatory Theatre Company, officially on break.

Simply put, it features a compelling and original story, the attractive music pulses and soars, the stage effects and direction come full of invention and the performers do credit to every word and every note they take on. The whole thing works perfectly like a fine gold watch, polished to perfection, moving precisely and impeccably.

The musical Time After Time is based on a novel by Karl Alexander, transformed into a 1979 movie, both with the same name. Fantasy and science fiction author H.G Wells, having invented a time machine, uses it to go into the future to pursue his one-time dear friend Dr. John Leslie Stephenson who has been revealed as the Victorian era’s Jack The Ripper. He escaped to the future with the machine. Both men cross paths in 2010 New York City. There John/Jack continues his murderous ways and H.G. meets and falls in love with a younger woman Amy. She too encounters Jack.

This may not sound all that complicated but Stephen Cole’s intelligent, perceptive dialogue creates a solid script, including talk about social class and the constant evils in society, regardless of the century. And yet, optimism, faith and tenderness also emerge. Example: H.G. sees the memorial to the victims of 9/11. And Amy tells him, with pride and insight “We keep rebuilding.”

And, every so often, Cole throws in amusing lines as Wells misunderstands contemporary American speech. Yet Cole never pushes that device. Moreover the story has a beautiful and touching twist at the end. Cole also wrote the lyrics.

Equally remarkable, Point Park University teaching artist-in-residence Jeffrey Saver has written a lot of appealing music, often resembling some of the best of John Kander’s, David Shire’s and Jason Robert Brown’s. And Steve Orich’s orchestrations work fine for the 10 musicians playing it, led impeccably by Douglas Levine.

Time After Time is directed by Gabriel Barre. He accomplishes wonders of movement, sight, sound, and space, aided, of course, by designers Stephanie Mayer-Staley, Andrew David Ostrowski and Dave Bjornson. Examples: a wax museum with his cast perfectly, marvelously, statue-like, or the scenes where ghosts of John/Jack’s victims haunt their killer.

As for the performances, John Wascavage creates an excellent portrait of the no-longer young Wells, an impressive character role contrasted to his interpretation of Candide in the Quantum Theatre production of it three months ago. That was a major singing role; this proves Wascavage has equal gifts as an actor. As the dark and dangerous John/Jack, Michael Campayno compellingly brings out the tortured psyche of the man who tortures women. His acting equals his convincing take on Billy Bigelow in Carousel at The Playhouse, likewise three months ago. And Campayno continues to sing superbly. In other roles all the cast remains believable, singing and moving with style and personality, also doing quite well indeed in with English accents

It should be noted that all the writers and the director have major professional credits. If this production, then, is some kind of tryout, Broadway seems a good choice some time soon as a future destination. And this cast makes everything look like this could be a hit.

Again you have only four days to catch Time After Time; March 11th to 14th at Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland. 412/621-4445

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