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New York City Theater

"The Glorious Ones"
Mitzi E. Newhouse at Lincoln Center Theater, Manhattan

To revisit the Commedia dell’ Arte scene, the old Italian street theater, is a worthy enterprise. One is bound to gain from such an experience, to get a handle on the early sources of comedy and improvisation. In the modern entertainment world, every one from Charlie Chaplin to Mel Brooks owes a debt of gratitude to that genre.

Having said that, we turn to the current offering at Lincoln Center. “The Glorious Ones”--a new musical, with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty—attempts to bring the period to life. Based on a Francine Prose novel, it tells the tale of a wandering troupe of players. It is the late 1500s, and they perform their bawdy, crude, improvised antics on the streets of Italy. Stereotypes abound—the crafty maid, the fake doctor, the miser, the swaggering leading man, the ingénues, and so forth. A simple plot is repeated ad infinitum, as they go through their routines.

Given the staggeringly impressive credentials of those involved in “The Glorious Ones,” we had great hopes for the show. But, alas, this new musical never hits home. Granted that director/choreographer Graciela Daniele moves her cast skillfully through the stylized ensemble work. And granted that she deals with a first-rate cast—topped by Marc Kudisch, and featuring Natalie Venetia Belcon, Erin, Davie, John Kassir, David Patrick Kelly, Julyana Soelistyo, and Jeremy Webb. Each acquits himself admirably in his particular role.

But, despite the best efforts of this talented company, the show disappoints. Is it the ho-hum music? (Only the last piece, “Armanda’s Sack,” in which a player rifles nostalgically through a bag of mementos, proves to be moving.) Is it the weak book. There is hardly a plot, although the problems of growing old, of veteran professionals replaced by young Turks, is suggested. Had this theme been explored in depth, “The Glorious Ones” might have been saved.

As it is, “The Glorious Ones” proves to be far less than glorious—and is indeed one of Lincoln Center’s lesser efforts.

--Irene Backalenick
Nov. 8, 2007

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