The Wandering Whore

The Wandering Whore (Playrights Arena; 99 seats; $ 20 top) Playwrights' Arena presents a musical in two acts with music by Eliot Douglass, book and lyrics by Philip Littell. Directed by Littell. Set, Mark Thompson; costumes, A. Jeffrey Schoenberg; lighting, Gerry Gregory Linsangan; sound, John Zalewski. Arena artistic director, Jon Lawrence Rivera. Opened, reviewed June 13, 1997; runs through Aug. 17. Running time: 2 hours, 30 min. Cast: Robin Quinn (Nat Lummock), Eliot Douglass (Jack Beef), Claudette Wells (Sugar Cunt), Michael Bonnabel (Ned Robinson), Andy Steinlein (Jack Jones), Andy Kreiss (Mr. Taylor), Robin Brennan (Green Mall), Philip Littell (Uncle), Hans Tester (Frank Riggs), Anne McVey (Orange Dab), Sarah Gossage (Welsh Nan), Inara George (Peg Angel), Susan Pierson (Mother Lockyer). Elliot Douglas' elegant, haunting music manages to shine through the considerable murk of "The Wandering Whore," a new musical with a confused book and distended lyrics by Philip Littell, the local theater light who won acclaim recently for his libretto to the San Francisco Opera's "The Dangerous Liaisons." The show is set among prostitutes (male and female) and lowlifes in 1700 London, and it's a subject Littell has clearly studied with relish (he himself plays Uncle Ned, and has a ghoulish drag number). His lyrics evoke the period and its people with vivid and cheerfully scabrous imagery --- surely this is the only musical ever to boast a chorus number about defecation! (culled, we learn, from authentic 18th century graffiti) --- but he seems to have been carried away by the local color, and forgot such rudimentary requirements of musical theater as character definition and plot. (It's not a good sign when copies of the full libretto are handed to reviewers after the show.) A discernible tale eventually congeals in the second act, involving the seduction and betrayal to the authorities of an aristocrat by a boy prostitute, and the boy's guilt over his part in the plot, but most of the first act is given over to various mood pieces establishing the characters' grim, amoral or desperate existences. Douglas' music is melodic and more varied than the lyrical content, and eloquently draws on early English ballad styles for inspiration. Much of it has a beauty that's sharply and provocatively at odds with the grimy milieu. Littell's lyrics are sophisticated and packed with detail, but they could use some serious winnowing. Littell directed the show, and another director might bring some perspective and shape that the librettist (and co-star) couldn't. The show's characters seem largely interchangeable, though they're acted with commitment by a dedicated, talented cast.

With:
Robin Quinn (Nat Lummock), Eliot Douglass (Jack Beef), Claudette Wells (Sugar Cunt), Michael Bonnabel (Ned Robinson), Andy Steinlein (Jack Jones), Andy Kreiss (Mr. Taylor), Robin Brennan (Green Mall), Philip Littell (Uncle), Hans Tester (Frank Riggs), Anne McVey (Orange Dab), Sarah Gossage (Welsh Nan), Inara George (Peg Angel), Susan Pierson (Mother Lockyer).

The Wandering Whore (Playrights Arena; 99 seats; $ 20 top) Playwrights’ Arena presents a musical in two acts with music by Eliot Douglass, book and lyrics by Philip Littell. Directed by Littell. Set, Mark Thompson; costumes, A. Jeffrey Schoenberg; lighting, Gerry Gregory Linsangan; sound, John Zalewski. Arena artistic director, Jon Lawrence Rivera. Opened, reviewed June 13, 1997; runs through Aug. 17. Running time: 2 hours, 30 min. Cast: Robin Quinn (Nat Lummock), Eliot Douglass (Jack Beef), Claudette Wells (Sugar Cunt), Michael Bonnabel (Ned Robinson), Andy Steinlein (Jack Jones), Andy Kreiss (Mr. Taylor), Robin Brennan (Green Mall), Philip Littell (Uncle), Hans Tester (Frank Riggs), Anne McVey (Orange Dab), Sarah Gossage (Welsh Nan), Inara George (Peg Angel), Susan Pierson (Mother Lockyer). Elliot Douglas’ elegant, haunting music manages to shine through the considerable murk of “The Wandering Whore,” a new musical with a confused book and distended lyrics by Philip Littell, the local theater light who won acclaim recently for his libretto to the San Francisco Opera’s “The Dangerous Liaisons.” The show is set among prostitutes (male and female) and lowlifes in 1700 London, and it’s a subject Littell has clearly studied with relish (he himself plays Uncle Ned, and has a ghoulish drag number). His lyrics evoke the period and its people with vivid and cheerfully scabrous imagery — surely this is the only musical ever to boast a chorus number about defecation! (culled, we learn, from authentic 18th century graffiti) — but he seems to have been carried away by the local color, and forgot such rudimentary requirements of musical theater as character definition and plot. (It’s not a good sign when copies of the full libretto are handed to reviewers after the show.) A discernible tale eventually congeals in the second act, involving the seduction and betrayal to the authorities of an aristocrat by a boy prostitute, and the boy’s guilt over his part in the plot, but most of the first act is given over to various mood pieces establishing the characters’ grim, amoral or desperate existences. Douglas’ music is melodic and more varied than the lyrical content, and eloquently draws on early English ballad styles for inspiration. Much of it has a beauty that’s sharply and provocatively at odds with the grimy milieu. Littell’s lyrics are sophisticated and packed with detail, but they could use some serious winnowing. Littell directed the show, and another director might bring some perspective and shape that the librettist (and co-star) couldn’t. The show’s characters seem largely interchangeable, though they’re acted with commitment by a dedicated, talented cast.

The Wandering Whore

Playrights Arena; 99 seats; $20 top; Opened, reviewed June 13, 1997

Production: Playwrights' Arena presents a musical in two acts with music by Eliot Douglass, book and lyrics by Philip Littell. Directed by Littell

Creative: Set, Mark Thompson; costumes, A. Jeffrey Schoenberg; lighting, Gerry Gregory Linsangan; sound, John Zalewski. Arena artistic director, Jon Lawrence Rivera. Opened, reviewed June 13, 1997; runs through Aug. 17. Running time: 2 hours, 30 min.

Cast: Robin Quinn (Nat Lummock), Eliot Douglass (Jack Beef), Claudette Wells (Sugar Cunt), Michael Bonnabel (Ned Robinson), Andy Steinlein (Jack Jones), Andy Kreiss (Mr. Taylor), Robin Brennan (Green Mall), Philip Littell (Uncle), Hans Tester (Frank Riggs), Anne McVey (Orange Dab), Sarah Gossage (Welsh Nan), Inara George (Peg Angel), Susan Pierson (Mother Lockyer).

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