The temptation with the works of William Shakespeare is to approach them with a reverence bordering on sanctity, a temptation happily avoided by Daniel Shamir in his enchanting new musical-theatre work, Many A Good Hanging Prevents A Bad Marriage. Setting various sonnets and excerpts from Shakespeare's canon of comedies and dramas, Mr. Shamir has fashioned a sort of Shakespearean Aspects of Love, albeit with superior written material and a fresh, unhackneyed score that encompasses folk, rock, blues and jazz in endlessly inventive and melodic ways.
That the production at the Manhattan Playhouse was not up to the standard it deserved did not detract from Shamir's very impressive achievement. Performed without intermission in a charming, intimate cabaret setting (design uncredited), the production itself failed to avoid the trap of the reverent approach. Whether this was the problem of the performers or the direction was unclear - although Alkis Papoutsis certainly staged the work with a sure hand and kept the performers moving at a brisk pace (helped in no small way by Carmen Perifan's concise choreography), there was a spurious feel to the energy. The performers (Douglas MacKaye Harrington, Ron McClary, Christina Purcell, Diana Langdon Walker, and Joel Weiss) had individual shining moments (especially Mr. Weiss, who possesses a glorious tenor and by far the best voice in the show), but as a whole seemed to be performing by the numbers, coming to life only sporadically. All the moves were there, but as a group their dynamic was strangely detached and serious, particularly in the weighty dialogue portions. On the few occasions when they did let go and perform with a reckless abandon, the evening catapulted into musical-theatre heaven.
Physically, the production was lovely. The costumes, also uncredited, were appropriately elegant and sensual, while the aforementioned setting was crisply lighted by Andris Kasparovics with a colorful, sumptuous richness that spared no attention to detail.
This production of Many A Good Hanging Prevents A Bad Marriage,
though missing the irreverent spark that could have sent it spinning,
still entertained by virtue of it's unquestionably brilliant source
material, Daniel Shamir's equally compelling score and the winning
way they have been interwoven. The course of true love never did
run smooth, though in the end it served to pave the way for the
inevitable future productions this new musical deserves.
Writing: 2 / Music: 2
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Copyright 1999 Doug DeVita