Marivaux's barbed 17th century comedy, The Triumph of Love has been adapted as a musical, Triumph of Love, at Center Stage in Baltimore.
Does it work as a musical? What kind of music have the creators used to tell the story? Are the significant changes in the property? What are the chances that audiences elsewhere will like the show?
The critics have weighed in with their opinions; here's a chance for Playbill On-Line's Baltimore members to speak out and be heard.
Write your review -- long or short -- and email it to Managing Editor Robert Viagas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reviews will be posted as they come in. There may be some editing for space.
Please include your town and state, and please note whether you'd like us to include your full e-mail address so you can receive responses. This is optional, of course.Here are the results so far:
From Abigail Margulis (email@example.com):
Triumph of Love is a delight. The production, though small-scale, is definately worthy of a Broadway house as it has all of the characterisics of any Tony Award winning show. The script is fun and quirky but still has a sophisticated message. It teaches that love is a combination of the mind and heart.
Susan Egan is strong as Princess Leonide. Her voice is powerful and sincere while her acting is equally charming. Her broad range is obvious as she has the power to play both male and female being able to woo members of both the sexes. Her character development is evident. She opens the show with "I Would Do Anything For Him" as a confident Princess and then in the end of the second act her facade is dropped and we are left sympathyzing with the sweet girl who now questions everything that she has done in "What Have I Done". Suddenly her games to get Agis have built up to a point where she must confront those who she has walked over.
Christopher Sieber is a handsome Agis. He transforms quickly from the stern pupil of his uncle to a little boy charmed by a woman. In "Issue In Question", he realizes that he is in love. This makes him giddy, confused, and excited. His youth and innocence of love makes the audience get excited with him.
Robert LuPone (Hermocrates) and Mary Beth Piel (Hesione) are both comically austere in their presentation. When Princess Leonide takes on the task of trying to win both Hermocrates' and Hesione's love, she uses ideas that touch the herat of each. For Hesione, she makes her feel young. Piel's acting is especially touching in her song "Serenity". Her voice is flawless and we see in her eyes the flower she was at the age of seventeen. For Hermocrates the Princess appeals to him as a student wanting to learn his philosophy. At first he holds the upper hand, but the more she uses her "sexy" smarts, she wins him over too. LuPone is especially amusing when he makes an entrance at the end ready to marry Leonide. He is just as giddy as the young Agis.
Both Daniel Marcus (Dimas) and Kenny Raskin (Harlequin) add a spark of Comedia del'arte. They are both funny and sweet. At first sight Dimas is a cold, sorry person. As soon as he, Harlequin, and Corine (Denny Dillon) buddy up, he is cute and happy. They help the Princess win her love but then reflect on what they will do now that their help is no longer needed in "Henchmen are Forgotten".
Triumph of Love is a big hit in Baltimore. It will be going to Yale Rep. next and then off to New York. Keep your eyes open in New York for its Broadway opening as it is sure to entertain all!
From Richard Gist (dickgist@netcom):
Triumph, indeed! Last night's Thanksgiving Eve performance of this world premiere at Center Stage is precisely that. Coming from its highly improbable beginnings (the book is adapted from a relatively obscure 18th century classic French work by Marivaux), this musical soars almost from start to finish in a production that is entertaining in every sense of the word -- chock-a-block with peppy, intelligent dialogue, on-the-mark musical numbers with lyrics that extend the storyline with both logic and grace, and a relentlessly uplifting pace that succeeds in defying the odds at every turn. This is a show that will at times remind you of many of the musicals you've ever seen on- stage, yet it remains as original and fresh as a Spartan spring.
A co-production with the Yale Repertory Theatre, "Triumph of Love" is the story of Grecian princess Leonide (Susan Egan), who uses every conceivable ruse in seeking the love of Agis (Christopher Sieber), who just happens to be rightful heir to the throne that was usurped by her own family. Agis is a bookish man of reason, however, and is not about to succumb to the passions of love. Not until the enchanting and artful Leonide comes along, that is.
Adding to Leonide's challenge is that Agis' stuffed-shirt uncle, philosopher Hermocrates (Robert LuPone), and aunt, the stern Hesione (Mary Beth Peil), are intent on keeping their nephew on the straight and narrow. As is characteristic of the genre, gender disguises and reversals, mistaken identities, and increasingly convoluted plot twists are what keep things moving here.
What turns out to have such appeal in this unlikely plot which, at first blush, has the potential to go absolutely nowhere, is the unrestrained and highly appealing zeal with which the character Leonide and (especially) the performer Egan carries out her mission of love. James Magruder has given her the benefit of a truly sparkling book to work with, and the match-up simply couldn't be more on-target.
After two-and-a-half years and over 700 Tony and Drama Desk nominee performances on Broadway as Belle in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," Ms. Egan left to star as Margy in the short-lived "State Fair," before coming to this production, which seems perfectly tailored to her impressive talents. Possessor of a fine singing voice, Ms. Egan is also well-equipped as an actress whose looks and moves are simply first-rate and appealing, and her sense of comic timing mines all the sophisticated riches of this script and score, and then some. This is a resplendent performance from a star truly on the rise.
Other notable performances are turned in by Mr. LuPone, who renders his Hermocrates almost as a caricature of himself in the beginning, then gradually transforms his overblown character into the most ludicrous dandy imaginable, with fine assistance from the brilliant costume design of Catherine Zuber (who adds a touch of Howard Crabtree in the final scenes). As his sister, Ms. Peil is hilarious as the frigid spinster aunt, and even more so as the unlikely paramour. She also has a magnificent singing voice that shines brightly on her "Serenity" solo and touching "The Tree" duet with Mr. LuPone.
Mr. Sieber looks every bit the prince in this production, and his comic talents seem a good match for those of Ms. Egan. In supporting roles, and assuming the duties of the chorus when needed, are three other actors who all bring considerable verve and personality to their respective characters. Denny Dillon, who won last year's Cable Ace Award for her starring role on HBOs "Dream On," is a natural in the role of Corine, faithful servant to the princess, a wily conspirator whose ideas emerge effortlessly and furtively.
Daniel Marcus as Dimas and Kenny Raskin as Harlequin, both servants to Hermocrates, provide plenty of raw energy to this production, with their off-the-wall characterizations and endless stream of sight gags and pratfalls. They also perform a song in Act Two that has the potential to be a showstopper, "Henchmen are Forgotten." Among other memorable songs from the show are the production number "Ballad of CEcile" in Act One and Ms. Egan's lovely "What Have I Done?" in Act Two.
The play takes place in the garden retreat of Hermocrates, and is depicted with a whimsical touch that brings Voltaire's (and later Bernstein's) "Candide" immediately to mind. Designer Heidi Landesman has come up with a versatile mostly green carpeted set that consists of concentric semi- circular hedges, and a centerpiece that alternates between a fountain and a sundial. Balloonists and carriages pass across the horizon in a thoroughly bantering manner. Brian MacDevitt's lighting is precise and cheerful, and David Budries's sound design is notably subtle and appealing. Again, Ms. Zuber's motley costume design is sheer delight.
Michael Mayer's direction of this small-scale musical is marked by his superb ability to optimize the intimate space available to him, and the manner with which he has kept this show moving without lag from start to finish. There are passages in the play when Mr. Mayer asserts an exaggerated, almost choreographic style to the staging, but never to the point of distraction, and always with a steadfast, value- added result. Doug Varone contributes to these effects with some original choreography, albeit without the confines of specific dance numbers.
On the minus side, and this is truly small potatoes in contrast to the overall flow of the production, there is a profusion of classical allusions in the very early going which is somewhat heavy-handed and unwieldy to an audience that has just settled into strange seats. While most of it is, in retrospect, tongue-in-cheek and harmless banter, the effect is frustrating to one who thinks he should somehow be digesting the meaning of all this dialogue and lyric material.
Once the plot cranks to its fever pitch, however, the classical overkill gives way to a much more comfortable repartee that is considerably less didactic without at all sacrificing the high level of sophistication that marks Mr. Magruder's book and Susan Birkenhead's consistently wonderful and highly intelligent lyrics.
The Center Stage program for this show includes an illustrated article highlighting the typically American tradition of turning classical plays into musicals. While the backgrounder is certainly interesting, this production is in no need of apologia. On the other hand, if the purpose was to place "Triumph of Love" in the respectable company of such memorable all-time hits as "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "The Threepenny Opera," "The Boys from Syracuse," and "Kiss Me Kate," then the association may seem somewhat presumptuous to the theatergoer who takes his seat preparing to see this "small scale" musical. By the time it is over, however, the appropriateness of the comparison is all too evident, as this "Triumph" fully deserves to hold its own in such lofty company. And I will look forward to seeing it again in New York. In the meantime, Iill gloat about having witnessed its world premiere in Baltimore. (11/29/96)