Music by John Kander
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“There’s a big boat with a long rope and the tide has turned/pull the long rope to stop the big boat/and all that happens is your hands get burned.” – Collin
“The Landing” is a smart new musical that frames three short tales. Each – “Andra,” “The Brick,” and “The Landing” – has unique characters with unique conflicts; however, the three are cleverly connected thematically. They are also consociated by the powerful image introduced by Collin (Frankie Seratch) in the final tale of the three-part musical: the “big boat with a long rope” serves as a scintillating extended metaphor for the difficulty one encounters when passion runs amok and the best laid plans of women, men, and harbingers of doom “gang agley” (as they often do). Desire, love, and loss connect each tale with a sometimes humorous, sometimes chilling result.
In the first tale, “Andra,” eleven-year-old Noah (Frankie Seratch) allows himself to develop trust in Ben (Paul Anthony Stewart) the 40-something carpenter building cabinets in his family’s New England country home. Ben woos Noah’s fragile trust by opening the abused boy’s heart with stories about Andromeda – the myth and the galaxy. The burns on the back of Noah’s neck, inflicted upon him by bullies at school, begin to fade as his relationship with father-substitute Ben solidifies. Unfortunately, other wounds open when Noah’s desire for a caring father and the love he offers Ben becomes conflicted when he discovers that his Mom (Julia Murney) also desires love and has been having an affair with Ben. Frankie Seratch captures Noah’s innocence and his abrupt coming-of-age with an almost disarming aplomb. Paul Anthony Stewart skillfully traverses the fine line between love motivated by honest feelings and love motivated by deception and rapacity and Julia Murney’s Mom manages to profoundly occupy the vortex where all loss convenes. David Hyde Pierce narrates this tale with grace.
Least satisfying is the second tale “The Brick” in which the boy Darius (Frankie Seratch) visits his aunt Charl (Julia Murney) and is consumed by her passion for the genre of mob movies which satisfy her legitimate need for excitement and control in a marriage bereft of both. Charl, tired of waiting for Uncle Cliff (Paul Anthony Stewart) to extricate himself from his culinary craft, decides to succumb to the infomercial pitch and buys “an actual brick from the wall of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” which promises to “bring the murder and mayhem right into your very own living room.” The ensemble cast does its best to make this dream-like tale (yes, there is a fantasy dance) work and often seems in the throes of discomfit as it navigates “The Brick’s” mortar. It is interesting that Kander’s music is most derivative (of his own work) in this tale of fantasy meets desperate housewife.
The final tale bears the name of the new musical’s imaginative title and is unquestionably the most powerful of the three. Jake (David Hyde Pierce) and Denny (Paul Anthony Stewart) are celebrating the arrival of their foster child Collin (Frankie Seratch) who turns out to be much more than a precocious twelve-year-old. Jake suspects Collin’s claims to be world-traveled at twelve and, in a conversation with the astute pre-adolescent, discovers that Collin has landed in their lives to escort Denny to his premature death through myocardial infarction on the landing Collin has invited Denny to visit with him. The couple’s desire to solidify their relationship with an adopted child briefly strains their bonds of love and intensifies the experience of loss. This tale is in no way maudlin but it manages to be empowering in its depiction of human weakness. The work of the ensemble cast, the book, lyrics, music, lighting (Ken Billington), set (John Lee Beatty), and direction coalesce in this tale with a spirit-filled synergy that defies precise description: prepare to be shaken to the core of being. Julia Murney as Jake’s younger sister empathically narrates this tale.
Walter Bobbie directs “The Landing” with calculated but ever so successful risks. Greg Pierce’s book and lyrics are fresh and vary appropriately between the disparateness of the tales. As always, John Kander’s music is both mesmerizing and salvific. The musicians (Paul Masse, Vincent DellaRocca, Vivian Israel, and Greg Landes) enmesh themselves in the matrix of John Kander’s music with flawless proficiency.
The three tales serve as fables, parables really, for humanity’s reach for meaning and longevity. Human beings are pretty predictable when it comes to crimes of the heart. Hoping for redemption and release, humanity has consistently challenged the direction of the “long boats” that have been launched. Longing for love, ropes have been grasped hoping to change the fickle direction of fate. Despite consistent hand burns, women and men continue to leverage the ravages of loss. “The Landing” navigates this journey with astonishing benevolence.