Theatre Mirror Reviews - "See What I Wanna See"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Carl A. Rossi


words and music by Michael John LaChiusa,
suggested by the stories of Ryunosuke Akutagawa
as translated by Takashi Kojima

directed by Stephen Terrell
musical direction by Jonathan Goldberg
fight direction by Meron Langsner

Kesa; Wife; Actress … Aimee Doherty
Morito; Husband; CPA … Andrew Giordano
Janitor; Priest … Brendan McNab
Thief; Reporter … Andrew Schufman
Medium; Monica … June Baboian


Piano … Jonathan Goldberg
Drums … Zack Hardy
Reeds … Ray Taranto; Louis Toth
Percussion … Desiree Glazier; Adam Nazro

Several seasons ago, I thrilled to Michael John LaChiusa’s THE WILD PARTY and thought, “this is the future”; now I have seen his SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE at the Lyric Stage and more calmly think, “this is the present”. In other words, Mr. LaChiusa has arrived and settled in, and the Lyric production demonstrates that he may develop more as a librettist than as a tunesmith since his music remains more jazz than Tin Pan Alley with lyrics to be declaimed and noodled rather than sung. Like many a composer of New Musicals, Mr. LaChiusa seems reluctant to be an entertainer as well as a visionary (thus, no standards-to-be) and SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE issues from an isolated corner rather than from cornfields, tropical islands or Berlin in the 1920s.

The evening is two joined halves about truth versus the way human nature interprets it, based on stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa which I haven’t read but I have seen another adaptation-source: the 1951 film classic RASHOMON, which is a series of flashbacks revolving around a woman’s rape by a bandit and her warrior-husband’s death in medieval Japan. The flashbacks are four views of the crimes: the woman claims she was raped by the bandit in the presence of her captive husband and, having been refused her husband’s forgiveness, she herself stabbed him while in a state of shock. The bandit boasts that the woman gave herself willingly after he had won her in a fair sword fight. The warrior’s spirit, issuing through a medium, says that he committed suicide after his wife had voluntarily fled with the bandit. A wood-gatherer claims that he had eavesdropped on the trio, declaring that they all behaved badly, yet he may have stolen the dagger that the warrior claimed to have used to kill himself, rendering his version also suspect. Mr. LaChiusa begins with a movie-pastiche of the fornicating wife and bandit, leading into a modern-day spin between a chanteuse, her rich husband and a small-potatoes thug (the husband and wife have just strolled out of a movie house showing, of all things, RASHOMON) --- the movie house janitor claims the telltale knife and stands accused. In Act Two, a priest who has lost his faith anonymously concocts a hoax that within three weeks Christ will rise out of a Central Park lake: the hoax draws thousands of believers to the site; ironically, only the priest witnesses the results while the masses turn Doubting Thomases. I found it all fascinating as long as I kept thinking “a play with music” rather than “a musical”.

And, now, a drum roll for Aimee Doherty who catches fire as three femme fatales --- two of them, hard as nails; one of them, ditzy --- and I realize why I have been so hard on Ms. Doherty in the past and that is because she is far more impressive as a leading lady turned loose rather than a supporting one champing at the bit. Ms. Doherty has showgirl looks and figure, a powerhouse voice and plenty of spunk --- a hoyden turned pinup without changing her act --- and now she demonstrates what she can do, center stage, gathering style, confidence and even a sense of humor along the way. She has yet to relax, but who cares (for now) with such nonstop dazzlement? If Ms. Doherty is determined to remain in the spotlight, she is too young for Phyllis in FOLLIES...perhaps Cherie in BUS STOP, for starters? Either way, a new star flickers in the Boston firmament…

Brendan McNab is another surprise: he, too, is coming to the fore with his tormented machismo and rousing baritone --- and Boston is always in need of leading men --- but Mr. McNab’s gentle, groomed side must be given equal time, as was beautifully demonstrated in the Lyric’s 1776. Andrew Giordano is a handsome manikin who can cut a dashing figure or be a droll send-up of one; here, he is the former but I have yet to hear a heartbeat from him. Next to the Messrs. McNab and Giordano’s glorious tones, Andrew Schufman’s tenor is a reedy one but he is a born noodler, effortlessly sliding up and down his jazzier passages. I’ve never seen June Baboian before but hope to see her again, and often, with her rounded, diminutive presence and opera-buffa pipes. Should you get lost in Mr. LaChiusa kaleidoscope, you can always enjoy this quintet, turning this way and that, revealing their own endless dimensions.

"See What I Wanna See" (5 January - 3 February)
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 585-5678

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide