See What I Wanna See at Signature

Matt Pearson, Tom Zemon, Channey McQuay, and Rachel Zampelli star in the Michael John LaChiusa musical See What I Wanna See

Matt Pearson, Tom Zemon, Channey McQuay, and Rachel Zampelli star in the Michael John LaChiusa musical See What I Wanna See

It was odd to hear this score without the scent of onions in the air.  You see, when the cast CD of the show came out it lived in our kitchen CD player for a while.  I kept listening to the music, but found it a tad abstract and clinical, and I never quite connected to it.  Seeing the production just opened at Signature makes a compelling argument for seeing a show before trying to listen to the cast recording.

See What I Wanna See is a chamber musical consisting of three separate elements.  Each act opens with a couple telling a story of a final tryst, from her perspective in the first act and his in the second.  The first act then is a loose adaptation of the Roshoman story, telling the tale of a rape/murder from three different perspectives.  The second act is a fable (oddly reminiscent of Anyone Can Whistle) of a miracle scheduled to occur in Central Park in the post-9/11 timeframe.

Although I have admiration for the individual elements of the show, I don’t quite see how they work together as a single evening.  However, I think that’s a fault of the material.  Because all the elements of this production are superb – terrific directing by Matt Gardiner, a perfect setting by Adam Koch, and handsome lighting by Mark Lanks. The five-person cast (Channez McQuay, Matt Pearson, Bobby Smith, Rachel Zampelli, Tom Zemon) does an amazing job of portraying a range of characters with great humanity and great gusto.  And they make LaChiusa’s incredibly complex score very audience friendly.  And huge plaudits to music director Jon Kalbfleisch and conductor Zak Sandler for their incredible work.  My only quibble is that I thought the show would be a bit more audience friendly if the balance between the hot band and the terrific actors could be weighted a bit more in the actors’ favor.

As for that score, LaChiusa’s music comes across as far more dramatic, emotional, and accessible in the theater than it does on disc.  (In fact, patrons were heard humming the score in the mens room at intermission.)  In a recent poll I did of music directors, when asked the question “What music do you most dread having a singer put in front of you for the first time?” the near-unanimous response was either Michael John LaChiusa or Adam Guttel (of the forthcoming Light in the Piazza at Arena Stage).  Part of me wonders if we are having the reaction to a groundbreaking style of music in a way that audiences were reacting to Sondheim’s music in the Company-Follies-Night Music period.

That said, two songs from the show are already familiar from cabaret stages (the title song and There Will Be a Miracle, notably being done around town by Emily Everson), and I see great cabaret possibilities for the song No More. 

At the end of the piece a character says, “I created a lie that became the truth.” Is there any better summation of the creative process? 

All in all, I think it’s very fortunate that we have the opportunity to see a smart piece like this with a talented cast executed beautifully in Signature’s intimate Ark space.   The show is part of Signature’s tribute to LaChiusa this season — it will be interesting to see the premier of Giant, opening April 28th.

Photos by: Scott Suchman

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One Response to See What I Wanna See at Signature

  1. Jill Leger says:

    Such a thoughtful write-up, Michael, Thanks. You make such a good point about the initial reaction to Sondheim. I saw Guttel’s Myths and Hymns here in Toronto a couple weeks ago and did feel that this was a fearless and brilliant composer really building on the past to create something brand new.
    And thanks for the April 13 plug, you doll!

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