Review: ‘Mirette’

Musical numbers: "Sitting on the Edge," "Madame Gateau's Colorful Hotel," "Maybe," "Someone in the Mirror," "Irkutsk," "Practicing," "Learning Who You Are ," "Juggling," "The Show Goes On," "Feet Upon the Ground," "Clouk & Claire," "If You Choose to Walk Upon the Wire," "She Isn't You," "The Great God Pan," "The Great Bellini," "Sometimes You Just Need Someone," "Madame Gateau's Desolate Hotel," "All of a Sudden."

Musical numbers: “Sitting on the Edge,” “Madame Gateau’s Colorful Hotel,” “Maybe,” “Someone in the Mirror,” “Irkutsk,” “Practicing,” “Learning Who You Are ,” “Juggling,” “The Show Goes On,” “Feet Upon the Ground,” “Clouk & Claire,” “If You Choose to Walk Upon the Wire,” “She Isn’t You,” “The Great God Pan,” “The Great Bellini,” “Sometimes You Just Need Someone,” “Madame Gateau’s Desolate Hotel,” “All of a Sudden.”

It’s as if Harvey Schmidt, Tom Jones and Elizabeth Diggs’ new musical “Mirette” had a death wish. How else to explain its perversely self-destructive opening? In it, after a curious overture of loud recorded bird twitterings is silenced, a line of Parisian music hall performers goes through a series of bad dreams of bombing in public. A juggler fumbles, a singer’s voice cracks, a clown isn’t funny, gymnasts collapse. It’s all painfully symptomatic of what’s to come in this “family musical” adaptation of Emily Arnold McCully’s slim illustrated children’s book “Mirette on the High Wire.” At least Schmidt and Jones can console themselves with the fact that they’ve had their share of successes, notably the longest-running production in the history of the American theater, “The Fantasticks.”

Prior to this full production on the Goodspeed Opera House’s main stage, “Mirette” was given a work-in-progress run at the Goodspeed-at-Chester Norma Terris Theater in 1996. Why, then, weren’t more of its obvious problems corrected in the interim? Perhaps the whole idea of a musical about Mirette, a pre-teen French girl in 1890s Paris helping Bellini, a once great high-wire walker, regain his lost nerve, wasn’t viable to begin with. Certainly insufficient imagination on everyone’s part has been brought to bear on the musical, which is passe, cliched and coy.

Diggs’ book fails to dramatize the central situation. The score, with its occasional waltz and tango rhythms, is not unmelodic, but it also never impresses itself strongly on the memory, except when it’s evoking other scores by composers such as Cole Porter and Kurt Weill. The lyrics tend to plod.

Then there’s Andre Ernotte’s uninspired direction, a cast that for the most part has none of the panache or glamour so desperately needed and a patchy-looking physical production and costumes.

Of the cast, the one member who does have some real style is Michael Hawyard-Jones, as a dapper impresario. He also sings well. But he doesn’t appear until the musical’s thin, short second act. As Bellini, James J. Mellon doesn’t project a strong enough personality.

In the long, demanding title role, young Cassandra Kubinski is a thorough pro , and even does some nifty low-wire walking. She sings strongly, if not sweetly, and she never falters. But there’s something of the mechanical doll about her, and ultimately it’s difficult to care about Mirette or Bellini’s dilemma. “Mirette” would have been best left on the page.

Mirette

(MUSICAL; GOODSPEED OPERA HOUSE; 398 SEATS; $ 41 TOP)

Production

EAST HADDAM, Conn. A Goodspeed Opera House presentation of a musical in two acts with book by Elizabeth Diggs, music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones, based on the book "Mirette on the High Wire" by Emily Arnold McCully. Directed by Andre Ernotte.

Crew

Choreographed by Janet Watson; musical direction by Michael O'Flaherty. Set, Neil Patel; costumes, Suzy Benzinger; lighting, Timothy Hunter; orchestrations, Larry Moore; vocal arrangements, Gary Adler; stage manager, Donna Cooper Hilton. Goodspeed Opera House executive director, Michael P. Price. Opened, reviewed July 24, 1998. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

With

Mirette ..... Cassandra Kubinski Bellini ..... James J. Mellon Tabac ..... Jason Wooten Madame Rouspenskaya ........ Marsha Bagwell Clouk ..... Paul Blankenship Claire ..... Leslie Ann Hendricks Gaby ..... Amanda Watkins Camembert ..... Steve Pudenz Madame Gateau ..... Anne Allgood Max ..... Michael Hayward-Jones
With: September Bigelow, Bob Freschi, Timothy Charles Johnson, Carrie Wilshusen.
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