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Tuesday, 21 April 2015 14:47

Broadway Review: DOCTOR ZHIVAGO

Written by
Tam Mutu Tam Mutu Photo: Matthew Murphy

How do you take the grand and sweeping novel "Doctor Zhivago" by Boris Pasternak and turn it into a musical? How do you follow an iconic, Oscar-winning film (1965) starring Omar Shariff and Julie Christie that rendered the story so beautifully? Crafting a musical Doctor Zhivago would seem a scary and silly dream to chase. Yet, the creative team behind the new Broadway show of the same title have transformed it into a moving, epic retelling of the story.

The story is set during the First World War and the subsequent Russian Civil War. Dr. Yurii Zhivago (Tam Mutu), a physician and renowned poet, loses his father to suicide as the father loses his fortune to the ravages of war. Young Yurii (Jonah Halperin) is taken in by Alexander and Anna Gromeko (Jamie Jackson and Jacqueline Antaramian) and their daughter Tonia ( Ava-Riley Miles). Yurii goes on to marry Tonia.

Despite being married to, and in love with Tonia, Yurii falls in love with a young dress maker, Lara Guishar (Kelli Barrett), herself married to Pasha (Paul Alexander Nolan), a political activist and rabble-rouser. He first encounters her when she attempts to assassinate the lecherous Viktor Komarovsky (Tom Hewitt). Komarovsky is a politically connected man who initially helped Lara and her mother ( Pilar Millhollen) get situated in a small shop after the death of Lara's father. For this he extracts his pound of flesh from Lara in the form of an ongoing tryst.

The music by Lucy Simon (The Secret Garden) is lush, complex, beautiful and diverse, from the tongue-in-cheek "It's a Godsend" to the haunting "On the Edge of Time," a duet sung by Yurii's two loves. The lyrics by Michael Korie and Amy Powers are intelligent and meld seamlessly with the score and the book (Michael Weller). Given the historical breadth of this work, Weller's book doesn't flag and doesn't short change you. The flow of this musical is also attributable to the deft hand of Tony-Award winning director, Des McAnuff (Tommy, Jersey Boys).

McAnuff uses the versatile set, designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell, to great effect. He achieves many beautiful looks while using Scott-Mitchell's vibrant digital backdrop and moving portals. The portals change to suit the scene, be it pre-conflict affluence (replete with ionic columns), to the industrial look of a war zone and the by-gone splendor of a summer retreat. Aiding in the mood of the piece, Scott-Mitchell uses historical photos projected on scrims. These photos are the faces of those affected by these conflicts.

Paul Tazewell's costume design ranges from sumptuous to downtrodden, representing the pre-conflict days when the Zhivago's still enjoyed the spoils of their class, to the schmatta's representing their by-gone pedigree. Howell Binkley baths these glorious physical elements in light that enhances the mood and focuses the audience's attention to the appropriate focal point.

In terms of cast, you couldn't ask for one more perfect. In the role of Yurii, Mutu takes the character from the height of lost love found, to the depth of found love lost with strong emotional connectedness. He has a stunning singing voice that befits Simon's melodic score.

Nolan succinctly captures Pasha's devil-may-care attitude as a young political activist. He is equally as adroit when it calls for the character to transition from Pasha to the intense madness of Strelnikov, a man known for being a barbarian. Nolan tears into this role like a lion with a piece of fresh red meat. He's loud, he's intense, and he's passionate. He also has a huge voice that suits the role. When called upon, he shows us the soft underbelly of his character, going from first mocking Yurii's poem about Lara to his being visibly shaken by the poems power to move him.

Our two leading ladies give brilliant performances. Barrett is gutsy and tenacious as Lara. She has a gorgeous voice that immediately reels us in with the lovely and lilting "When the Music Played." Lora Lee Gayer brings Tonia to life as an adult. She too has a lovely singing voice and her character's passion for Yurii is intense.

Tom Hewitt delivers a stand-out performance as Viktor Komarovsky. He straddles that fine line between a man you hate for his aggressiveness to do whatever it takes to move forward, to his compassion for those around him. He perfectly creates the paradox that is Viktor Komarovsky.

This team has taken a massive story and managed to tell it passionately and succinctly in just two hours and forty minutes. Along the way it will give you chills, make you cry and touch your heart. Doctor Zhivago is a welcome addition to the musical theatre canon.

View full production credits at

Edited by Bruce W. Greenwood

Additional Info

  • Theatre: Broadway Theatre
  • Theatre Address: 1681 Broadway New York, NY 10019
  • Show Style: Musical
  • Previews:: March 27, 2015
  • Opening Night: April 21, 2015
  • Closing: Open Ended
Last modified on Thursday, 09 July 2015 05:21
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