Sunday, 26 March 2017

Drabinsky's Sousatzka A Waste of Talent

Sitting in the audience of Sousatzka on Opening Night, there were moments when I hung my head at what was allowed to be presented on the stage of the Elgin Theatre. 

Montego Glover and Victoria Clark
photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Based on the novel Madame Sousatzka by Bernice Rubens, this incarnation is a Garth Drabinsky produced version in which a young piano prodigy (actor Jordan Barrow) is caught between the demands of his mother (Montego Glover) and a very forthright music teacher (Victoria Clark). The show attempts to link the oppression faced by Sousatzka in Nazi occupied Warsaw and the oppression faced by those living under Apartheid in South Africa, in particular, Soweto. This glorious theme of unity is undermined by the production's own ignorance. How could they be so blind to their offensive portrayal of Soweto, and South Africa. When they chose to include projections of the savanna, did no one investigate the fact that Soweto is an urban setting, not grassland? When the script made fun of someone's name did they not realize that such cheap jokes would not be welcome in 2017, especially when the lead character has a name like Sousatzka? When they were choreographing the dances, did they not think to hire someone who could manifest on stage the high energy and distinctive forms of South African dance? With the Warsaw elements being fully and beautifully realized, the shoddy Soweto section makes songs such as "Rainbow Nation" absurd.

Jordan Barrow photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Overall, the songs, music and dance in Sousatzka are the weakest I have ever seen in a major commercial production. At one time, the music coming from the pit reminded me of my junior high music class on a bad day. I felt sorry for the orchestra having to play such juvenile compositions. I also felt sorry for the actors. No fault can be placed upon Tony winner Clark (The Light in the Piazza, Gigi), Tony nominee Glover (Memphis, Les Miserables) and Tony winner Judy Kaye (The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked), whose resplendent voices had no matching lyrics to showcase their immense talents. The weak balletic moves I saw on stage would have had the students from the National Ballet School laughing out loud; the punk rock music scene had lots of plaid but the dancing was underwhelming, lacking the inherent hardcore physicality and simmering violence of that music scene.

I can't help but think that the ovation the show received on opening night was a an acknowledgement of the actors having to perform in such dreck.

Sousatzka is a pre-Broadway production that, in my opinion, isn't ready for any stage. If it should go to Broadway in its current state, the critics will have a most delightful time crafting their scathing reviews and they will be justified.

If you must:
Sousatzka (until April 9th)
Elgin Theatre
189 Yonge Street
http://sousatzkamusical.com/






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