A talented cast lifts this less-than-engrossing musical adaptation of Marivaux's classic to surprisingly satisfying heights.
Reviewed by Cameron Kelsall
Manhattan musical theatre fans, take note: for the first time since -- well, in my case, ever -- there's a good reason to go to Queens. The Astoria Performing Arts Center's new production of The Triumph of Love, a tuneful if less-than-engrossing adaptation of Marivaux's Restoration comedy (it first bowed in New York a decade ago), expertly blends freewheeling farce (in the commedia style) with classic Broadway songbook elements. Performed by an embarrassingly talented cast, Brian Swasey's simple yet winsome staging almost surmounts the show's shortcomings.
The action is engaging enough: Agis (Tripp Pettigrew, satisfying enough) the rightful Prince of Sparta, nears the day he will reclaim his throne from the usurping Princess Leonide (Abby Baum, terrific). Under the tutelage of Hesione and Hermocrates, his philosophy-spouting aunt and uncle (Erika Amato and Richard Rice Alan), he has been taught to hate the woman whose family murdered his parents and forced his surviving family into exile. Unbeknownst to him, however, he has already made Leonide's acquaintance, and she, not knowing his fugitive status, has fallen in love with him. (This is a comedy, after all) In the hopes of winning his affections, she dons breeches and passes herself off as a student, hoping to be taken under Hermocrates' wing. It should go without saying that shenanigans ensue.
If one aspect of this production truly thrives, it is the musical performance. The songs are very standard, sometimes bordering on pedestrian, but they tend to soar in the hands (and voices) of this cast. Most impressive is Ms. Amato, who brings an amalgamation of seemingly limitless chest voice and an agile lyric mezzo to Hesione's numbers. Her reading of "Serenity," Hesione's Act One showpiece, is among the best renditions I've ever heard. She's also the most comfortable actor of the bunch, soaring through a scene in which Leonide, disguised as Phocion the student, attempts to seduce her. Her voice beautifully blends with Ms. Baum's raw but appealing belt.
The show's flaws are evident: at nearly ninety minutes, the first act is overlong, and too much of the action rests on incidental numbers performed by a trio of commedia dell'arte stereotypes--a Harlequin (Philip Deyesso), saucy maid (Ashley Spiegel) and miserly handiman (Justin Birdsong). As hard as these three try, they simply cannot make these unnecessary bits work. The book (by James Magruder, a noted Marivaux translator) is overrun with puns, the lowest form of literary wordplay, and much of the events leading up to the denouement seem to come out of nowhere. Still, I managed to leave with a smile on my face, something I certainly don't remember happening after seeing the original Broadway incarnation. It proves once again that a solid cast really can achieve anything.
The Triumph of Love
Astoria Performing Arts Center at the Broccoli Theatre (21-12 30th Road, Astoria, Queens)
Tickets (OvationTix): $15; students and seniors, $12; children under 10, $5
Performances (through May 11): Thursday-Saturday at 8PM; Sunday at 6PM
Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission
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