It is safe to say that Audrey Hepburn is a beloved icon—a fashion icon and an icon of old Hollywood who was also an extremely private person. Quite reticent about her personal affairs at the height of her fame, it was only in her later years that the public became acutely aware of her romantic and familial struggles. “Audrey: The New Musical,” written by Danielle E. Moore and now at Creative Cauldron, strives to illustrate the life of a complicated and passionate individual whose rise to fame clashed with her desire for family and a harmonious marriage. Moore approached the character with a clear respect for Hepburn and the tone of “Audrey” is earnest and bright. Unfortunately, despite an excellent performance by Rebecca Ballinger as Audrey Hepburn and supporting cast, it is a confusing blend of historical fiction and a golden age Hollywood musical, which leaves one struggling to unearth its message from disconnected musical numbers and unexplored plot points.
A wonderful cast and quality designers give this musical a good foundation.
Act One opens with an interview of a much older Hepburn. The interviewer insists that it doesn’t make sense that she is opening up about her private life after decades of life away from the spotlight. This is meant to inform the audience that Hepburn rarely accepted interviews and it is notable for doing so now—now being the operative word. This first scene should catapult the audience into the world of the show and get them hooked. Hepburn’s romantic life is interesting but no real answer is given as she cheekily says that only one man has ever truly affected her romantically—and the show moves on. This is one example of many loose plot threads and seemingly important information that is never tied up. Is this a story about love and romance? A story about family? A clear through-line seems needed to get the story off the ground.
The plot also jumps back and forth between Audrey’s childhood in Nazi occupied Holland and her life as an actor at the height of her fame. It is unclear as to why scenes go from the past to the present (and vice versa) so frequently and don’t advance the plot. Informed at the beginning of Act One that she used her dancing as a ruse to assist the Dutch resistance, little information is gleaned from these scenes. At the end of the final act, young Audrey and present-day Audrey share a hug. This would be less confusing if they had had interactions at other points during the play. It seems to suggest that the entire musical was a dream sequence. If reworked, this moment could be very touching.
Many of the numbers are entertaining and help the show move along quickly as Audrey makes her way into superstardom. However, most of them seem out of place. It is not necessary for every new character to introduce himself/herself by way of a sung monologue. Juxtaposed with introductory solos are numbers that introduce conflict between characters. It doesn’t seem that there is a clear focus about how to present numbers as dream sequences versus numbers happening in the linear plot of the show. Currently, it seems that almost all numbers are dream sequences.
The most effective musical number, “If,” was sung by Santiago Alfonso Meza as movie star and director, Mel Ferrer—Hepburn’s first husband. Ferrer is essentially lamenting the fact that he will never have the same critical acclaim as his wife. Meza is an excellent vocalist and the rage churning below his cool movie star demeanor created a layered portrayal that was a lovely breath of fresh air. When Meza and the radiant Ballinger are onstage, the show is at its best. Their scenes are well thought out and give both actors the opportunity to show their chops. “I’ve Got Plans” was another well-written song highlighting Ballinger’s superb vocal control.
Great pains have been taken to ensure that Ballinger is Audrey’s spitting image and her costumes are excellent. Her first Givenchy look—a white gown with black embroidery—was particularly lovely. Props go to designer Margie Jervis for putting together a stunning rendition of her most famous looks. Because many actors double as two or three characters, other famous names are not made quite as obvious as Audrey’s little black dress and the costumes don’t succeed in creating the desired “golden age” effect. The plot moves so quickly, it is essential that the audience doesn’t get bogged down in trying to figure out who everyone is. Even though the musical is about Audrey Hepburn, just as much characterization needs to exist for the supporting cast.
At its best, the show has the bones to be both strikingly serious and fun. “Head of the Class/Givenchic Reprise,” sung by Edith Head and Hubert de Givenchy (played by Bianca Lipford and Tyler Cramer, respectively) was a good example of a production number that almost goes to that wonderfully campy, over-the-top level. It reveals the fashion designers’ positions on fashion, and the competition between two great rivals is entertaining. Lipford and Cramer certainly do the characters justice, but the number was itching for more complex choreography since the backup dancers/assistants were not utilized to their full potential.
On par with “Head of the Class/Givenchic Reprise” was “The Go-Go Lightly” drag (referencing her character in the film “Breakfast at Tiffanys.”) This number shows that the cast can “bring it” as an ensemble if given specific business onstage. When actors enjoy each other’s company it comes across, and this cast clearly enjoys working with each other. It seems this number was lightning in a bottle, but it doesn’t have to be the case. The ensemble is dynamic and that same electricity can be injected into every scene.
This is a musical that is conflicted. It is a huge task to create a new work and sometimes not all ideas need to make it off the drawing board. It has the potential to be either a sleek, new, musical comedy about an up-and-coming actor, or a dark, thoughtful piece about a complex woman who always kept her cards close to her chest. Ballinger and Meza create great tension that can be with a knife, but it quickly dissolves in a plot bubbling over with too many ideas. A wonderful cast and quality designers give this musical a good foundation. Moore has a soft spot for her subject and with a clearer focus, “Audrey” could be a success.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
“Audrey: The New Musical” runs through June 4, 2023 at Creative Cauldron, 410 S. Maple Avenue, Falls Church, VA 22046. For tickets and more information, call the Box Office at 703-438-7748 or go online. Masks are required inside the black box theater at all times.