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LA Theater Review

Franz Schubert, His Letters & Music

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It is bad enough that at the top of the show we're briefly told the most basic information about 19th-century German composer Franz Schubert. But worse is the choice to read it from a sheaf of pages, when probably most in that opening-night audience could have gotten up and recited by heart those facts—and hummed a few of the composer's pieces.

Conceived by Phillipe Calvario and Julia Migenes, directed by Peter Medak, the evening consists of the composer's lieder (he composed the music but not the lyrics) and his letters. This concept, wonderful in theory, fails in its execution. Worst among its flaws, Medak apparently asked the otherwise highly skilled Jeff Marlow to read from the pages rather than speak from the heart, which becomes immensely distracting and distancing. Marlow is obviously practiced in the text and tries to give an emotional shape to the chronology. But why read? Perhaps it was intended to give us the impression we are at a "recital." Or it may make Migenes' use of even-more unwieldy scores look less conspicuous. In any case, it scuppers our involvement. Further distancing us, Bosco Flanagan's otherwise dramatic lighting design leaves the actors in the dark for far too long and occasionally leaves the audience in leaking light.

Migenes sings the collegiality and warmth of the lieder. But, again, distractions keep us from becoming invested: She dons and doffs her glasses, she and Marlow lie on the floor—very rarely a good idea in 99-Seat theater, completely inappropriate here—and she too often must ease her billowing skirt from under her heels. Victoria Kirsch offers tasteful, restrained accompaniment on an instrument wonderfully appropriate for Schubert's music: an upright piano with a homespun voicing.

Schubert's music nestles in the hearts of his many admirers, particularly those who prefer him to Beethoven. His epistolary skills? Not so much. The evening may introduce a few people to his music, but it is unlikely they will be the crossover crowd from "Legally Blonde: The Musical." To speak to the audience this production should draw, fine-tuning is in order.

Presented by and at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. Aug. 1–23. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.
(310) 477-2055. www.odysseytheatre.com.

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