There is a song written by Alan Chapman that’s entitled “Everybody Wants to be Sondheim” and I guess that’s true in many ways. Composers have tried to copy Stephen Sondheim’s unique one of a kind style but generally fall short.
While many theatres across the country successfully produce productions of Company and Sweeney Todd, very few produce Passion, which is one of Sondheim’s latter masterpieces. This is why I appreciate Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia for adding this challenging masterpiece to their season.
…a chance to see a lesser produced work from the master makes it worth the trip.
Based on the 1983 film Passion d’Amore and the novel Fosca, Sondheim and book writer James Lapine tell the story of Giorgio (Ben Michael) who is an officer in the Italian Army. At the top of the show, we see Giorgio and Clara (Jennie Eisenhower) in a sensual love scene to the song “Happiness.” From the looks of things, you would think Clara is Giorgio’s wife but she is actually his mistress and is married to another man. From there we meet the members of the Italian military headed by Colonel Ricci (Ben Dibble) whose sick plain Jane cousin Fosca (Liz Filios) lives at the military quarters. She is under the care of Doctor Tambouri (Frank X.) Giorgio’s kindness towards Fosca grows for her into an obsession and takes the friendship to a place of sensuality. It then becomes a question of who Giorgio cares about more and if he can continue his military duties while Fosca follows him around even when almost at death’s door.
In James Lapine’s original Broadway staging, the scenes moved seamlessly from one to the other. In this production, Director and Producing Artistic Director Terrence J. Nolen’s staging of the set changes interrupted the pacing of the action, pausing while actors set tables and chairs.
Performance wise Ben Michael’s Giorgio was my favorite. He has a beautiful voice and you really get to see how conflicted his character is by the portrayal.
Liz Filios as Fosca sings my favorite song in the score “I Wish I Could Forget You” note perfect and her voice is very pretty but overall her performance is missing the pathos and hurt that Fosca requires. Here is a case where the urgency of the situation was not bought out to full advantage because if there is no tension between Fosca and Giorgio then there is no show.
Jennie Eisenhower as Clara sounds and looks good but I never got the idea of the true feelings she has for Giorgio throughout the show.
The ensemble sounds very strong and the many solos throughout such as Fosca’s “Loving You” are audibly great to listen to. Kudos to musical director Ryan Touhey for the wonderful sounds onstage.
Equal praise goes to conductor Amanda Morton and her nine piece orchestra for playing Jonathan Tunick’s master set of orchestrations with precision and accuracy.
Scenic and video designer Jorge Cousineau who also co-concieved the production with Nolen provides an interesting use of the Arden stage by using a series of panels to reveal certain portions of the upstage area at varying times during the show.
Overall Passion at Arden Theatre Co is not as well paced as it should be but Sondheim’s score and a chance to see a lesser produced work from the master makes it worth the trip.
Advisory: Adult themes.
Running Time: Two hours with no intermission.
Passion runs through June 28th 2015 at Arden Theatre Company which is located at 40 N 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.