Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Jack the Ripper: The Whitechapel Musical"

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide

| MARQUEE | CURTAIN | USHER | INTERMISSION |



"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


Reviews of Current Productions


entire contents copyright 1997 by Larry Stark


"Jack the Ripper:"


The Whitechapel Musical

Music by Stephen Bergman
Book and Lyrics by Christopher-Michael DiGrazia

Directed by Curt Miller

Set Design by Judy Stacier
Lighting Design by Karen Perlow
Sound Design by Ben Emerson
Costume Design by Cheryl McCarron
Stage Manager Kyle Rudgers

Jack The Ripper...................Christopher J. Aruda
Mary Jane Kelly.....................Jennifer Lynn Nagy
Annie Chapman...............................Molly Beck
Elizabeth Stride...........................Linda Goetz
Catharine Eddowes......................Celeste McClain
Mrs. Diemschutz......................Laura Ellen White
Polly Nichols.........................Deborah Wrighton
Ensemble............................Julie Mae Pelegrin
Inspector Frederick Abberline..........Stephen Brumble
Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn.............Timothy Ostendorf
Policeman Walter Beck......................Buddy Souza
Jack Pizer..............................David Salovitz
Ensemble...................................Will Meyers
Gentleman of The Press.....................Dan Dowling
Gentleman of The Press..................Courtney Furno
Gentleman of The Press..............Michael Paul Ricca
Gentleman of The Press...................Britton White

Piano.............................Lisa DeSiro
French Horn.....................Kathryn Troup
Bass.............................Scott Palmer
Drums/Percussion..............Wendy Greenwood


When Stephen Sondheim said a musical was a set of separate songs all of which further the action of the story, he was describing "Jack The Ripper: The Whitechapel Musical" (having its world premiere at the BCA, presented by CentaStage and Everyday a Holiday). Christopher-Michael DiGrazia's lyrics are distinguished from his book only by the fact that Steven Bergman's excellent music makes them ever so much more meaningful. Every line in the show us About Something, every person is an individual, and they all fit together into an organic totality so smoothly shaped it's impossible to say who might be responsible for the effect --- except perhaps everyone.

Director Curt Miller handles a cast of eighteen, many of them with more than one part, yet each comes on stage distinct and complete and moving in a clearly defined niche in the many swirling yet coherent crowd-scenes. There are London's streetwalkers swilling gin to forget their means of livelihood, cynically predatory press flacks smelling out what sells papers, and the dogged, bewildered police tumbling through the undertow of an inexplicable crime wave.

And there's Jack, of course.

The show starts with an explication of the sexual realities of late Victorian London so humanly engrossing that when Jack comes out of nowhere to commit his first murder centerstage it is as much a shock to the audience as to the townspeople, and only gradually does this lean smiler from the shadows begin to banter with a victim, to sit openly in the pubs scouting possibilities, and to grow into a person rather than just a swift, vicious presence. At the point where Jack kneels centerstage in a spotlight caressing his blade and singing the song "The Finger of God" with its oddly bent notes, the play becomes wholly, chillingly his.

Of course there's still the wolf-pack of the press badgering the police, the stunned women half terrified, half hoping they may become the next famous shredded corpse, but the latter half of the play turns not so much into a who-dunnit as a grisly, plausible solution and resolution for the mystery. Pedants will argue whether this fits forensic facts; still it fits dramatic facts, and contains some of the most compelling acting and powerfully lyrical music on any stage.

This show is so all-of-a-piece that it's hard to see the score as full of familiar forms, like quartets and ballads and counterpoint and chorales because every one is in service to the unfolding plot. Similarly it almost demeans Curt Miller's fine cast to single out Christopher J. Aruda's comprehensible monster as any less terrifyingly brutal for all his believable motives, or to comment on the tight inward focus of Jennifer Lynn Nagy as the pivotal Mary Jane Kelly. One might as well just recite the cast- list, for saying each one Is the part compliments the actors who realized the roles as much as the creators who made them.

And why should credit stop there? Are Joe Antoun, John Schumacher and Tom Vance "merely" the producers? Shouldn't the Boston Council for the Arts and Humanities and the Massachusets Cultural Council take bows because their money allowed Cheryl McCarron to make so many period costumes? Shouldn't Kyle Rudgers get a hand as the backstage legend he's become because no show this big runs so smoothly without a great stage manager? And what about that invisible five-piece live band? As Sondheim elsewhere remarked, "Bit by bit, piece by piece, grant by grant --- puttin' it together" is the interconnected jigsaw way musicals get made.

And, despite all the artistic sweat and refinement and input, it doesn't come alive until an understanding audience begins to glimpse what's there. But some audiences are privileged. The people who left the world premieres of "Showboat" or "Carousel" or "Merrily We Roll Along" must have felt in awe of the richly detailed emotional packages they had been handed. They may have looked forward to living with the cast-recordings, catching later performances or revivals, or looking out for the next projects with these new names on them. That's how I felt leaving the Boston Center for The Arts --- certain that a whole generation of actors and singers would fight and kill for the privilege of singing such beautiful, intensely expressive songs.

I felt I had seen something new.

Love,
===Anon.

"Jack The Ripper: The Whitechapel Musical" (till 26 April)
CENTASTAGE
BCA Theatre, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(617)536-5981

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide
| MARQUEE | CURTAIN | USHER | INTERMISSION |