Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel. That story of long-lost love being rediscovered is entirely too easy to swoon over, not to mention the supporting cast of characters is a hoot. So when I saw that my September review options for Centerstage included a musical adaptation of the book, I jumped on it. As Beth said, you can’t miss “Persuasion: The Musical!”
But oh how we should’ve missed it.
Beth drove three hours to visit me and see the play, and she said it was the worst play she’s ever seen. I felt so bad, although of course I couldn’t have known. It turned out to be a really expensively funded community theater production, with several shaky singing performances and one spectacularly bad acting and singing performance. Here’s an excerpt of the review:
Ms. Landis wrote the libretto for this adaptation, and even traveled to England to do research for it, so it is clear that this is a labor of love. Unfortunately, that love didn’t translate into a stronger performance, and enthusiasm alone can’t carry a play. This story deserves a passionate production, not a three and a half hour slog.
Three and a half hourrrrrrrrs. Nothing is that long. Maybe the Ring cycle. No one even does Shakespeare at that length anymore. Three and a half hours I will never get back.
The woman playing Anne, Barbara Landis, is the Artistic Director of the company, so she pretty clearly cast herself, but what she needed was someone to tell her no, you can write the libretto, you can pick the music, but you cannot play this part. We wondered if maybe she had an illness, because her movements and facial expressions were so odd that it seemed possible she didn’t have proper control over them. This would be terrible! To be slamming the performance of a woman who bravely overcame an illness or stroke. Except that there is no mention of that in the program, there is no indication that she is anything but well, so I have to go with the information I’m given. Based on that, it was a supremely narcissistic move to cast herself in a role she couldn’t possibly carry, and that is unfair to her cast, her crew, and her audience.
But also, she has all these accolades from past performances! (I Googled her.) She was in so many prestigious performances, as were many of her cast (several of whom were not at all up to the opera singing required). Who is casting these people? What are they seeing that I’m missing? Am I making a huge mistake in giving this a strongly negative review?
I’ve never run into this problem before. I’ve seen a couple shows that I wrote more negative than positive reviews for, but none that made me want to leave at intermission (I even texted my editor to see if I could do that, but let’s face it, that’s pretty unethical if you’re reviewing a show, to only see half of it). I was torn up about whether I should really lay into this play for being as bad as it was, and this actor in particular, or whether I should give some leeway. As you can see in the review, I devoted a whole third of my allotted words to pointing out the positives. But in the end, that’s all I could afford, because I ultimately saw it as more important to be honest, even brutally so, than to guess at motives and try and be nice. And maybe I’m out of step with the other reviewers in town, but I suppose that’s why we have so many: a reviewer for every taste.
Read the rest of the review here.