nytheatre.com review by David Hilder
September 22, 2007
That Joshua William Gelb and Stephanie Johnstone have thought to create a piece of musical theatre loosely based on the life of ancient Roman poet Catullus is in and of itself surprising. But lest that description lead to thoughts of togas, senators, and Christians thrown to lions, rest assured the musical at hand is much more contemporary than backward-looking. Gelb and Johnstone have taken the poems of Catullus as the source point for a piece that explores the nature and foundations of creativity. There's an everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach on display, as though the writers recognize they're going to have to keep the styles changing in order to maintain interest. On balance, the results feel more labored than inspired, more dullish than delicious.
Adam Hose plays Tully, a feckless poet in limbo surrounded by fragments of his work who cannot determine if he's dreaming. The pieces of poetry around him take him through a tour of his own life, focusing mostly on his obsessive relationship with a married woman and, to a lesser extent, his subsequent intimacy with a male friend. The picture that emerges, unfortunately, is of a man who is so selfish in pursuit of a woman who doesn't want to be with him that he seems more cracked than compelling. Hose has a great voice and handsome looks reminiscent of Adam Pascal, but his Tully remains so much a cipher that investing in his struggles is rendered impossible.
The largely excellent supporting cast fares rather better—perhaps because they have better material to shape. Autumn Hurlbert as Tully's sister has a welcome tartness, and David McGee as her husband is warm and lovely. The two are terrific performing "Forever," an acerbic song about marriage. Kate Rockwell and Austin Miller (both late of the NBC reality show hopelessly devoted to casting the current Broadway Grease revival, You're the One That I Want) play siblings Clodia and Claude Beautée—she being the object of Tully's (and her brother's, and every man's) lust—to solid effect; Rockwell almost makes her manipulative poor-little-rich-girl character more interesting than it is, especially in the song "Bob," and while Miller works too hard in a small theater he nevertheless manages to be effectively creepy. Evan Jay Newman is Tully's childhood friend Julie, who becomes Tully's lover; he delivers the score's best song, "Easy," beautifully, but cannot overcome the nagging sensation that his character's relationship with Tully is thrown in as an afterthought. Owen O'Malley is just the right type for comic soldier Rufus, though he does not yet have the chops of the rest of the company.
Tully would benefit from some significant trimming (two hours without an intermission is a lot to take, particularly when the material does not always cast a spell). More to the point, though, the piece still needs a stronger and/or more original conflict at its center; the notion of artist as a narcissistic victim of his own passions is not exactly fresh. Still, there is enough terrific music here to warrant some attention be paid to Gelb and Johnstone. If this musical is still somewhat far from the ideal, their efforts are also significant and notable.