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Fool of Hearts

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Virginia Rudolph and Russell Taylor's fairy-tale musical is quite a daring and vivid production, boasting a highly proficient, talented ensemble, a full orchestra, and a sophisticated book that is rich with darkly humane themes and passions. Yet the show is nevertheless a work in progress: Many of the musical elements seem half thought out, with the plodding and intermittently undistinguished book suggesting the need for more tinkering, if not a whole new draft. That said, though, something this ambitious is not easily dismissed: The show remains rich with strikingly beautiful music and a subtly moody tincture of melancholy.

In a fairy-tale kingdom the King (Stephen Full) is informed that his Queen has given birth to a horribly crippled child; he's so shattered by the news he pretends the boy has died. After the Queen dies of a plague, the King seals off the lad in a secluded castle wing. The King also decrees that there will be no celebrating anywhere in the kingdom, seemingly forever. Years pass. At age 16 the crippled prince (Charles Woodruff) discovers a secret corridor that allows him to sneak out of the dank castle to get his first view of the world. He becomes friends with sweet blind peasant Eileen (Renee Schell), who teaches him love and the meaning of life--in song, natch.

Director Taylor's thoughtfully introspective production, which mixes fairy-tale trappings with themes of grief, longing, and denial, is suffused with a consistent somberness that threatens to sink into a mire of bleak bitterness; a more upbeat mood would ironically be more emotionally involving. The dialogue is frequently far too talky and rather clumsy, with non-musical scenes often seeming to go on for minutes more than they need to. And some of the show's melodies, which mingle musical references from sources as diverse as Pippin and Les Miserables, are disappointingly unmemorable.

Still, some of the show's other numbers are excitingly tuneful and heartfelt: Woodruff's shatteringly poignant Act One number, "Wings To Fly," an anthemic prayer for mercy in a cruel world, is a stunning showstopper; so is "Kingdom of Light," a sadly ironic paean to human suffering, rendered with glorious compassion by Parisa Ross, who portrays the King's long-suffering estranged lady love.

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