"Far from Heaven," Todd Haynes’ memorable 2002 film of suburban angst in 1957 Hartford, Conn., with its explosive topics of race, sex and secrets would seem a perfect fit for a musical adaptation. A masterful amalgam of mood, color and character, the film is a quiet multilayered emotional powerhouse.
Now a gifted team of artists — composer Scott Frankel, lyricist Michael Korie and playwright Richard Greenberg — have taken up the challenge and are presenting a “preview production” at the Williamstown Theater Festival in preparation for its New York reveal next spring.
This musical adaptation has successfully sewn together the mood and color of the film but needs a gentle push to fully get the third — character.
‘Far From Heaven’
WHERE: Williamstown Theater Festival, Route 2, Williamstown, Mass.
WHEN: Through Sunday
HOW MUCH: $57-$37
MORE INFO: 413-597-3400, www.wtfestival.org
Frankel’s music (greatly assisted by Bruce Coughlin’s superb orchestrations), gets the tone and textures of the story right. Using the same aural hues as Elmer Bernstein’s unforgettable score to the film, Frankel’s score is fresh and focused. Flirting with the melodramatic feel that was the heart of the Bernstein score, Frankel’s is a perfect fit, enveloping the story in a slightly heightened theatricality that neither overwhelms nor smothers.
Korie’s lyrics are fine, offering sporadic emotional insight to the characters’ inner lives. Some land powerfully true as with the Act 1 closer, “The Only One,” but, sadly, some moments beg for a clearer focus and visceral punch.
While atmosphere and its underscore are done well, the character development and tension is not so lucky. Greenberg’s book has been largely lifted from the film script. But the feeling and subtext conveyed with a raised eyebrow or quivering lip don’t translate on stage, and many of the story’s more subtle moments require sharper focus or more revealing dialogue. The clipped, spare film dialogue often takes on an air of instruction and sermon, instead of creating moments of true emotional feeling.
The relationship between Cathy and her husband is a dance of masks, but behind them there are people in crisis and we need to hear that. We witness the torture Cathy’s husband, Frank, endures from the lie he’s living, but when we finally get a chance to hear and feel how it is affecting him (with Steven Pasquale’s beautifully performed “I Never Knew”), it’s too late. We no longer care.
Another odd element is having two musical numbers during the strained couple’s trip to Miami step outside the story to comment on the action. The song about choosing just the right napkin, another about how many times a week you have sex are clever and deliciously ribald, but add little heft or insight into the characters that matter.
The show is blessed with an outstandingly gifted cast. Kelli O’Hara could not be better as Cathy. Capturing the innocence and fragility of a woman slowly realizing that she is not the woman she thought she wanted to be, O’Hara’s is wonderful. As is Brandon Victor Dixon’s quiet tower of strength as Raymond. The emotional lock of the piece is firmly in place when the two share the stage.
Director Michael Greif has done a fine job keeping the pace and tenor of the piece. Allen Moyers’ ever-changing austere setting offers a perfect complement to the cold shadows and chill provided by lighting and rear projection designer Kenneth Posner.