nytheatre.com review by Anthony C.E. Nelson
April 25, 2008
Imagine, if you will, a world in which Rodgers and Hammerstein got lost on their way to catch a showing of Die Trapp Familie, the German film on which The Sound of Music is based, and instead spent their evening taking in a festival of Akira Kurosawa films. Their resulting collaboration might have looked quite a bit like Honor, Prospect Theatre's lovely, sumptuously realized, and charmingly if occasionally jarringly old-fashioned new musical.
In true Kurosawa fashion, and following their own success with the Twelfth Night adaptation Illyria, Prospect has chosen a Shakespeare play, As You Like It, for their source material. If you are familiar with the play, the plot may seem to meander a little too much for a musical, a problem adaptors Peter Mills and Cara Reichel aim to solve mostly with the addition of sword fights in place of religious conversions and the like. If this sounds a little like Kenneth Branagh's recent HBO film of the play, it isn't. Mills and Reichel have submerged the play much more fully in Japanese culture, and the result is a very impressive and entertaining new musical.
Briefly, the noble Lord Takehiro is overthrown by his brother Katsunori and driven into exile in the forest. He leaves behind his daughter Hana, who, after witnessing a brave stand by the noble samurai Yoshiro and hearing of Katsunori's intentions towards her, resolves to flee the court herself. She is accompanied by Katsunori's daughter Kiku, and their escape is enabled by the seemingly neutral trickster, Nobuyuki. In the forest, they run to, Lord Takehiro is hidden along with many of his loyal subjects, and hilarity and confusion ensue from there.
The large ensemble is exceptionally talented and includes a number of Broadway veterans, but special praise should be given to Diane Veronica Phelan's moving performance as Hana, Jaygee Macapugay and Romney Piamonete's hilarious turns as the peasant woman Mitsuko and the hapless woodcutter who loves her, and Alan Ariano and Ming Lee as the noble samurai and his lord. The single most impressive performance, however, has to be Steven Eng as Nobuyuki. He's very stagey and old fashioned, to the point that when he first appeared there were odd giggles throughout the audience as we adjusted to a performance style that doesn't get used all that much anymore. But by the end, he had thoroughly won me over and I looked forward to his next appearance.
Special credit should be given to Sidney Shannon's remarkably diverse and authentic costumes, Erica Beck Hemminger's creatively minimalist set design, Evan Purcell's evocative lighting, and Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum's fluid fight choreography, all of which combine to transform the Hudson Guild Theatre into 16th century Japan.
There are minor quibbles with the production, of course. The first act is too long. There isn't really any song you are likely to emerge from the theatre singing, except possibly Nobuyuki's ode to neutrality, "Little Grey Stone." The dialogue is occasionally repetitive. But I can promise you will remain engaged throughout, and emerge thoroughly enraptured with a new take on a classic tale.