In this poll, we asked you to review the PBS-TV broadcast of the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical Passion, featuring the original cast of the 1994 Tony-winning Best Musical.
Here is a selection of the reviews. Playbill On-Line thanks all those who submitted replies.
From: Derek Andrus:
I've been lucky enough to get to New York on numerous occasions to see almost every show that I desire to see before they close. This was not the case, however with "Passion". Although the reviews were highly mixed I had a great desire to see the show, if not for anything more that Donna Murphy's performance. The cast recording, while good, didn't really do anything for me other than showcase Murphy's lovely voice.
So it was with great anticipation that I awaited PBS' broadcast. I was completely enthralled. Television has never been able to draw me in like a live performance could. And while it was still television, this production was amazing.
Filming the show, rather than taping it, made all the difference. I'd seen shows on videotape and they always seemed amateurish (i.e. "Into the Woods"). This performance was simply beautiful to look at and allowed you to see the actors emote and watch the passion in their faces. All plays should be filmed in this manner if for no other reason than to keep for posterity sake.
As for the performance itself, "stunning." There cannot be a better stage actress working today than Donna Murphy. "The King and I", while a good musical doesn't give Murphy the chance to act. She commands you to watch her on stage (and in this case on screen) and you simply cannot take your eyes off her. As the seemingly grotesque Fosca, she mesmerizes viewers in today's "beauty oriented" society that normally would be put off by her looks and have a hard time sympathizing with the character. It takes the captain alot longer to fall for her than it does the audience.
The television was a huge bonus as it allowed the viewer to see Murphy's emotions, feel her pain and cry with her. Murphy makes Fosca real -- not totally sympathic, not too strong -- perhaps Sondheim's most completely rounded character.
Her singing, of course, is wonderful. She holds back, as the character requires her to do, but the show showcases her range and vocal talent well.
The rest of the cast is fine. Shea and Mazzie have a nice rapport and both have beautiful voices. Although Shea seems to glide through the performance until near the end when he realizes his love for Fosca. Here, Murphy seems to bring the emotions out of him. The scene where they make love is simply beautiful and being able to see the actors faces creates a magical dramatic moment.
In the end television may prove to be the better venue for this play. Again, I did not see it in the theatre but I find it hard to imagine how a show that seemed to rely so much on emotion could really work in a large theatre where an audience could not see the actors faces and the yearning Murphy protrayed as Fosca.
I wish those who panned "Passion" in its original Broadway incar- nation would review the PBS production. I'd be curious to see if their opinion changed.
I saw Passion in NYC in June '94, about 5 weeks after it's opening. I didn't like the show at all. I was bored.
To be fair to the show, I bought the CD and listened to it several times, hoping that familiarity with the score would help me appreciate it. That failed - I still didn't care for it.
I watched the PBS production last night, hoping that might sway me. Although the TV production was done very well technically and artistically, I still don't like the show.
The story is too much of a stretch. Fosca is simply too pathetic a character to evoke any empathy or sympathy. Her obsessiveness is too bizarre. There is no logical reason for Giorgio to fall in love with her and to be destroyed by her obsession.
Giorgio is very weak. How can he let the strong desire he has for the beautiful Clara be destroyed by his surrender to Fosca's obsession? It is based in neither passion nor convenience.
The soldiers do little more than gossip. And they sing the same music (I'll say!) throughout the entire piece.
Clara is the only interesting character. Her loyalty to her family and unwillingness to destroy it until her son leaves for school are an interesting contrast to the passion she shares with Giorgio. Her character is complex and thought-provoking.
The score is much too dissonant and rambling. In opera terms, it contains far too much recitative. There is only one strong melody with which to identify (Happiness). The best musicals have strong melodies. Two of Sondheim's recent shows, Assassins and Into the Woods are examples of musicals with strong melodies. (Into the Woods is one of my top five favorites.)
Kudos, however, must go to Donna Murphy, Jere Shea, Marin Mazzie, Gregg Edelman and Tom Aldredge for valiant performances of a weak script and score.
From Brian I. Katz:
I thought it was amazing. Simply beautiful.
I had seen the play in previews, and the script was not nearly as tight. Also, I was not impressed by the actor portraying Georgio on stage. However, in the film the slighter nuances of his performance could be appreciated. It was lovely to see Donna Murphy in the same respect. One could not appreciate the subtlty of her performance from the back of the mezzanine.
This is why the PBS broadcast worked so well for me. While a musical like Les Miserables, which announces its subtext in soliquouy pop-songs (not a criticism, BTW) can be enjoyed from a distance, PASSION draws us close; it works best when we can see the gentle touches of the lovers as well as Fosca's tearing at her skin. Lapine directed the film to perfection. He knew constantly when to draw us in.
I had not seen "Passion" before, and if the PBS presentation was a true rendering on the production, I thank my lucky stars that I didn't shell out $60.00 to see it---where was the passion ???
I found it to be extremely boring and unimaginative. I respect Stephen Sondheim tremedndously, but even the music was boring, boring, boring. I had made a vow to myself that I would watch the entire play-I didn't make it.
Mr. Sondheim was writing a show about love or the need to be loved. It's too bad Mr. Rodgers had not been a mentor to Mr. Sondheim the way Mr. Hammerstein was; he would have done well to draw upon Mr. Rodgers' genius. Because say what you want, no one could write a truly beautiful melody about love the way Richard Rodgers could. Love songs need warmth, Mr. Sondheim's "Passion" left me totally without feeling.
From Matthew J. Curtis:
It was great seeing it on TV-It brought back many happy memories when I saw it on Broadway during previews. The cast was one of the nicest I've ever met!!
Maybe it is because I was not to pleased with the Broadway production of Passion that last night's televised production didn't strike me the way the recorded versions of "Into the Woods", "Sweeney Todd", and "Sunday in the Park with George" did. Much of the music is a typical "Sondheim" with eigth and sixteenth notes running wild, and only a few songs give each character the emotional highs they need. Also the fact that James Lapine tried to turn a theatrical production into a cinimatic one by placing cameras on stage and filming from upstage down took some of the "magic" away. The redeeming quality of this production for me was Donna Murphy. She shined on stage and the ability to see her face and tears upclose (save the mole) made her performance even more enjoyable. Still, a mediocre Sondheim is better than most other writers, and it is great that,unlike these others, Sondheim choses to save his productions on tape for the public.
From Brian Pier, Illinois:
Too bad the rest of the country didn't see it! My local PBS station probably won't play it until their November pledge drive. Hope you all enjoyed it. Is it on video yet? [Editor's Note: Not yet. We'll announce it when it is.]
From Marti Bookstein:
The PBS version is the only one I've ever seen; nor have I studied the score. The performances were excellent. Voices with smooth transitions over wide ranges made listening a pleasure. (It will be a treat for me to see last night's lovelorn Senora as Anna - and soon, I hope.)
Melodically, I certainly heard "Follies" a lot, along with a sprinkling of "Sweeney Todd" and "Sunday...George". Textually, many lyrics were touching. Some of the poetry might well be taught to a younger generation to help them find love rooted in unselfishness.
I can't imagine that "Passion" will ever be a community theatre staple. But surely some will always find merit in the show through recordings and videos, and others of us will pursue performing the music, keeping elements of the show alive for the future.
From Chad D, Klopfenstein, Wheaton, IL:
As a long-time Sondheim fanatic, I eagerly anticipated this broadcast. I was unable to see then original production, so this was my first exposure to the show besides the OBC recording.
And what a disappointment it was.
While I knew the show had (well publicized) problems, I did not know it was so completely without a sense of passion. Wouldn't "Co-Dependant Lust" be a better title? I realize that Fosca's actions are not meant to be seen as praiseworthy. I realize that the show is (among other things) an examination of the transforming power of love. Still, who is transformed? Clara never changes. Fosca becomes only slightly less obsessive in the end. So is it Giorgio's transformation we are supposed to care about?
My basic problem is that I don't feel Giorgio truly is transformed. The climax finds Giorgio and Fosca having sex. Why is Giorgio's lust more noble now than when he was with a married woman with child? If love had truly transformed him, he would not have been so eager to consumate his relationship with Fosca, knowing it may kill her. He gives a whimpering protestation, but allows Fosca to silence him all too easily. Does love really mean that one night of "passion" is better than a year of life together?
Sex and passion are not the same thing.
From Allison Ring
Fans of the unique and acclaimed Sondheim-Lapine musical "Passion" were not disappointed Sunday evening as American Playhouse aired the filmed version of the musical drama in conjunction with PBS. It's an elegant and sophisticated work devoid of the dance and usual production numbers to be found in many commercial musicals, but the emotional depth of the subject matter, music, and Donna Murphy as Fosca, overcome any and all preconceived ideas of what musical theater is or should be.
"Passion" also overcomes the perennial problem of most filmed musical theatrical pieces: it succeeds without an audience, presented simply on stage. One can imagine how much richer it would be with the audience's presence.
The early scenes involve primarily Giorgio (Jere Shea) and Clara (Marin Mazzie) as their very physical love for each other is revealed. Although both are a bit understated in their portrayals, they are entirely believable as the handsome late-1800's Italian officer and his beautiful (although married, we later come to find) mistress. The much-talked-about nudity is reduced to the briefest of frontal glimpses of Clara, who spends a great deal of the first scene working with a sheet which covers her, and then a robe, which drapes sleekly over her curves as she leaves the bed she shares with Giorgio.
The music differs little from the Broadway Cast CD version, and both are in fine voice throughout. Ms. Mazzie's husky speaking voice, a delightful surprise, is in shart contrast to her strong but sparkling soprano.
By the time Ms. Murphy descends the stairs, about one-quarter of the way through, and interrupts Giorgio's reading of Clara's letter with her dusky "Cap-tain ...," we observe the supporting cast in rich period uniforms, and the scene of the action has moved from Milan to a mountain military outpost. Especially strong in the supporting cast are Tom Aldredge as the trouble-making Dr. Tambourri, Gregg Edelman as the too-proud Colonel Ricci, and Francis Ruivivar as the operatic tenor Lt. Torasso.
But Donna Murphy commands our total attention from the first moment. Her luminous eyes and absolute expressiveness are a wonder to behold, as she appears the picture of despair while singing the demanding "I Read." Shea's performance changes also, as we see his disgust and condescension toward Fosca. Mazzie looks almost like a whipped-cream confection as she appears reading/singing the "Letters" in her many gorgeous period costumes, replete with hoop skirts and lace. By contrast, Fosca's drab dresses reinforce her plainness.
While the music cannot be called operatic in the traditional sense, it is much more complicated than most musicals, with intertwining themes and melodies combining to form a most intriguing palette of sound. Among the most interesting are the vocals during Fosca's description of her marriage to Count Ludevig of Austria and her reading of the letter Giorgio sends her from his first five-day leave to rejoin Clara in Milan.
Complications arise when Giorgio's own mental state suffers as a result of Fosca's strong pursual of him, combined with Clara's reticent refusal to run away with him, and his own possible dissatisfaction with military life. The pain is visible on Shea's face, and, at the same time, Fosca begins to look a bit healthier. By the scene at the Christmas party, when Giorgio is notified that he is being transferred back to headquarters, he looks more ill than Fosca, who for a brief moment, looks genuinely happy as he tells her of his love.
Ms. Murphy puts as much as possible into the role, from throwing herself abjectly at Giorgio's feet to beg for his affections, breaking out in sobs on many occasions, and singing each note straight from the heart. A personal favorite, "Loving You," may become the standard from this musical.
This "American Playhouse" presentation should please any Sondheim fan and will introduce many to this Tony-winning musical, which took home four statuettes in 1994. With the exception of a couple of sequences, (Giorgio's dream and the love scene with Fosca) in which some unsettling special effects or film devices were used) I enjoyed the show thoroughly, and relished the fabulous music and performances. It's a thought-provoking American musical, based on the Italian film, which showcases the constantly changing and evolving talents of Stephen Sondheim.
Donna Murphy is an incredible talent, with an immense vocal range. Other leads were also good but what you would expect from a Broadway production? Reminded me a lot of ALW'S Aspects of Love. Certainly, not a show that everyone would enjoy, but I enjoyed it.
I thought the production values for a PBS special were very good.
From Jeanne McGuire:
I am so pleased that theatregoers are getting another chance to experience "Passion". I first saw it in New York when it was in previews in April of '94. I enjoyed it, but knew that it felt incomplete, (of course there were many things adjusted before it opened.) I returned to new in August and was able to sit fifth row center. It made all the difference in the world. I felt as if I were seeing everything for the first time. The facial expressions, interaction and subtle things that are impossible to see are crucial to fully connecting with this particular show more than most others I have ever seen. I returned several more times that summer and enjoyed it more and more with each viewing, a situation I find myself in with most Sondheim shows.
The film version makes all of these things possible for every viewer. You must be able to view Fosca at close range, because otherwise it is too easy to dismiss her and the intensity of her actions. The depth of pain, overabundance of feeling and intelligence in her eyes is what begins to make Giorgio view her differently and the television allowed us as an audience to see these things clearly. I have to commend the production staff for their decision to use film instead of videotape. The show looks as beautiful as it did in person.
The only thing I didn't love was the odd filming choice in the dream scene. The scene played very well live, and the super-imposing of images and jerky motion did nothing to make it more effective. A live production could not use this kind of special effect,(nor would it want to) and to me it seemed out of place with the rest of the work.
Donna Murphy's performance is nothing short of brilliant. I wondered if it would seem extreme or harsh when viewed at close range but, if anything, it was even more subtle and layered that before. The rest of the company does a great job as well, and it was fun to have the camera on each person so that individual soloists in this complex score could be found visually. I think it is one of Sondheim's most beautiful scores and I am so happy that the audience for this work has been greatly expanded by this broadcast.
From: Christopher P. Nicholson:
By shooting Passion on film, I think that much was lost in terms of connection and intimacy. Using a stage set with film was awkward. I could not get past the distraction and kept drifting out. With a live theatre or video set, you accept the confines and let your imagination fill in the blanks. But since film usually uses many sets, locations and camera angles, anything less seems lacking.