Last night provided a satisfyingly rare moment of theatrical fulfillment. It began in February 2006, when I downloaded Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley's duet album. That recording, "Opposite You," took its title from a new song from a musical that hadn't yet premiered by the writing team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynne Ahrens (Ragtime, Once on This Island, even the movie Anastasia). At the time, I fell in love with the song and it seemed like forever before the show, The Glorious Ones, would finally make it here after a tryout in Pittsburgh. But the curtain rose and fell on many days since then, and finally this weekend we got to see the larger work fleshed out around that one great song. It's not perfect, and I might've seen it through anticipation-tinted glasses, but it's definitely worth seeing and paying full price if you must (as I did, and so rarely do, except that Lincoln Center Theater produces great shows, and I'm not usually able to locate discounts for them).
The show, which follows a band of commedia dell'arte players from 16th century Italy, actually reminded me a lot of The Fantasticks, although better. It works well in the smaller, more intimate Newhouse auditorium downstairs from the Beaumont, and focuses on a spare wooden stage with simple curtains and the musicians up on a scaffolding. The music and lyrics are wonderful, and there are several other songs that touched me as much as or more than "Opposite You." The story is about comedy, its beginnings and its legacy, but there are also tears to be shed along the way. One challenge of staging the show is to move gracefully between the backstage drama, which has a more modern, realistic feel, and the slapstick, stylized commedia performances of the characters, which we see in theme and variation throughout. I thought it flowed pretty well, but M. said she at first had trouble seeing where one ended and the other began. Going along with a theme of the show - life is a kind of improvisation - you might argue it's better that there isn't always as clear of a line.
The theme of the climactic song, "I Was Here," made me think of Sondheim's more delicate "Children and Art" from Sunday in the Park (which will be playing later this season in revival at the Roundabout), except that the former is more urgent and wrenching in its yearning for remembrance. The lead, Marc Kudisch, whom I've seen now in at least six different shows, in that song pulls the masterful trick of getting you to really want what he wants, even though his character isn't entirely loveable throughout. Because, what he's singing about is the hope of so many of those who believe in the promise of art or science, each defined in the broadest of terms: that promise of things-going-on even when you aren't.