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Saturday, 02 October 2010 00:13

Broadway Review: BRIEF ENCOUNTER

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Hanna Yelland and Tristan Sturrock in BRIEF ENCOUNTER Hanna Yelland and Tristan Sturrock in BRIEF ENCOUNTER Photo: Joan Marcus
Emma Rice has crafted an engaging, artful and thoroughly charming adaptation of Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter for the Roundabout Theatre Company's 2010-11 season opener. Ms. Rice serves double duty on this show, she has both written the adaptation and directed the show.  At its core, Brief Encounter is about a brief, forbidden, unfulfilled affair between two lovers who can never have the satisfaction of knowing forever together.  Rice poignantly points out in her program notes, Noël Coward was gay in the 1930s when one did not easily profess their love to another of the same sex; he knew of what he wrote.
Rice’s production is rich with versatile musicians, singers, multimedia, theatrical slight-of-hand and a dash of vaudeville.  There are inevitably going to be some comparisons between this show and The 39 Steps, based on the Hitchcock film.  That show also employs broad physical humor, multiple-character roles and fine stage craft.

The cast of Brief Encounter is inordinately talented.  The musicians/actors all switch instruments with everyone getting a few licks at the bass and piano (both played impressively).  There are Noël Coward songs scattered throughout the evening.  The musical numbers add to the overall atmosphere and mise-en-scène so well that at times you would think Coward himself had put them there.  The vocal sound that the cast achieves is glorious at times as they go from Coward to Rachmaninov (for dramatic effect).  

The play takes place in an English train station coffee shop in 1938.  Alec, a doctor, happens to be in the train station when Laura gets a cinder in her eye and helps her get it out, and thus our story begins.  They meet weekly at the train station to enjoy each other’s company and take in a movie.  Hannah Yelland is the conflicted housewife who, for a brief while, struggles between her love for her bland, cold husband Fred, played by Joseph Alessi and the suave and gregarious Alec, played by Tristan Sturrock.

The lovelorn proprietress of the coffee shop, Myrtle, played to bawdy perfection by Annette McLaughlin and her love-interest Stanley, the ticket agent, also played by Mr. Alessi, have a delightful number together, “So Good at Love.”  Myrtle’s underling at the coffee shop, Beryl, delightfully played by Dorothy Atkinson and her would-be boyfriend Stanley, Gabriel Ebert, also have their own terrific number, “Mad About the Boy.”  She sings the song with Stanley accompanying her on the upright bass.  Ms. Atkinson makes hay with the number as she melds into the side of the bass in one of the evenings many comedic moments.  

Neil Murray has designed both the utilitarian and attractive set and the smart period costumes.  The projection design for this show is by Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington.  Their work is mesmerizing and Ms. Rice has imaginatively incorporated these videos into her direction of the show.  

What a terrific way to start off the season.  I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the Tony nominating committee meets to decide if this lovely new musical is eligible to be treated as such next June.  

Brief Encounter is running through December 5 at Studio 54, 254 West 54th St.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 19 October 2010 22:32

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