I very much wanted to like Queen of the Mist, the serious, ambitious new Off-Broadway musical with book, music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa. I've certainly admired and enjoyed past work of his. (I raved over his Marie Christine.) Queen of the Mist contains passages of music that are absolutely gorgeous—passages I'd enjoy hearing again on a recording. Mary Testa—always rewarding to watch—gives her all in the starring role, playing Ana Edson Taylor, who, in 1901, went over Niagara Falls in a barrel and lived to talk about it. And the supporting cast, with DC Anderson and Julia Murney, is excellent. But too much of this musical is awfully slow going. There's not enough forward momentum, and the austere main character does not seem to grow or learn from her experiences. Judging from this musical, she did one interesting thing in her life (go over Niagara Falls in a barrel), but was not, otherwise, a very interesting person. Early in Act Two, members of the ensemble sing "Who would have thought going over the Falls would be tedious/Monotonous/Repetitive.” And worst of all: “not fun." And all I could think was: "I agree entirely; they're summing up my feelings right now very well." They further—and aptly—refer to her in song as "That drone/That monotone/A bore." It is very dangerous for a playwright to have as a central character someone that everyone says is boring; such feelings are apt to be contagious. Near the end of the show, Ana asks her sister, "Am I dying?" Well, yes, by that point she is indeed dying. She then goes on to ask: "Must it take so long?" And all I could think was: "Good question! MUST it take so long? Can't the playwright just let her die now, and be done with it?" But she dies—like she does most everything else in the play—at the slowest possible tempo. Some of the characters around her (like a manager played by Anderson with irresistible flair) are more colorful, but they're secondary characters, and they can't save the play.
(Photo: front: Stanley Bahorek, Mary Testa, Theresa McCarthy; back: Tally Sessions Julia Murney, D.C. Anderson. Photo by Carol Rosegg)
November 5, 2011