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Sunday, 29 July 2012 13:06

NYMF Review: LIVING WITH HENRY

Written by
Dale Miller (Henry), John Edwards (Mathew), Ryan Kelly (Michael) Dale Miller (Henry), John Edwards (Mathew), Ryan Kelly (Michael) Photo: Ted Belton

In the new musical, Living With Henry at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, Christopher Wilson (who has written the book, lyrics and music) has settled on a fresh narrative perspective for his post-apocalyptic AIDS crisis musical.  Henry in the title refers to Henry Ignatius Vaillancourt (Dale Miller).  He is Wilson's physical manifestation of HIV as a central character in the musical.  This doesn’t work as well as it could, primarily due to the musical’s direction. 

Mike (Ryan Kelly) is a gay man who contracts HIV from Matt (John Edwards).  Matt doesn't disclose his HIV status until after the deed.  We watch as Mike suffers through seroconversion, ignores his doctor’s advice to begin meds, lives in a state of denial, hits rock bottom where he is put into an induced coma, and eventually learns to live with Henry.

Sadly, this is a musical in search of a director.  It has been chaotically directed by Donna Marie Baratta.  Scenic designer Jennifer Goodman, has taken rolling coat racks and stretched chain-link fence across them.  They are wheeled around into different configurations during the show by the other actors, frequently trapping and closing in on Mike, presumably representing the feeling of being closed in on by HIV/AIDS. Ms. Baratta’s direction detracts from the principal action on the stage by having actors remain on stage to move these rolling coat racks, which are in and of themselves a distraction.  The actors also appear to cross the stage randomly as they get ready for their next character.

I was also not fond of Ms. Baratta’s decision to have Henry coming into physical contact with Mike (let alone when one of the other characters, the doctor, physically pushes Henry away). Henry is in Mike’s head as well as his body.  It would have been much more effective to have Henry manipulating Mike by never touching him.  She does use this technique effectively at on point as Henry manipulates Mike like a marionette with imaginary strings.  Unfortunately, Henry’s clingy character leads to a clunky feeling to the show.

Dale Miller is miscast as Henry. He is an attractive man, but there is a missing joie de vivre that a tricky disease like HIV would have, think Billy Flynn in Chicago. Ms. Baratta has attempted to capture that feel in “The Price of Nice” where Henry sets up a game-show environment, with himself as the host. He offers Mike the option of putting out and taking a risk or playing it safe.  

Ryan Kelly gives a credible, believable performance as Mike.  Lizzie Kurtz is Jenni, Mike’s best friend.  Mary Kelly is Mike’s mother.  Ms. Kelly has a lovely moment in act two with the sweet song “I Remember You.”  Gavin Hope is Mike’s lover Peter.

In general the songs serve the piece well in developing character and advancing the plot.  Unfortunately, they have been so poorly staged that I find myself wondering what the piece could actually be were it given a less convoluted production.  

Additional Info

  • Theatre: PTC Performance Space
  • Theatre Address: 555 West 42nd St. New York, NY 10036
  • Show Style: Musical
Last modified on Sunday, 29 July 2012 13:16