The Classic Stage Company is the hottest Off Broadway theater in New York right now. Celebrating its 45th Anniversary under Artistic Director Brian Kulick and Executive Director Greg Reiner, it presented a wonderfully authentic production of Chekhov's “Ivanov.” Now, a new stunningly-staged interpretation of “Passion,” Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and Book by James Lapine, has been extended until April 14 and tickets are as scarce as a summer's day in January. (You may apply an hour before performance time and hope to get cancellations.) The show had a short run in 1994, yet won the Tony award.
This very odd story, based on the Italian film “Passione d'Amore,” explores the question: Can a handsome, capable man ever experience love for a homely and very ill woman, whom he cannot stand? The Director, Designer John Doyle (who has successfully tackled revisions of Sondheim's “Sweeney Todd” and “Company”), Musical Director Rob Berman, a superb cast and orchestra high above, is to convince the audience that the answer in the affirmative is believable.
In a minimalist black box ambiance, with some pillars, a curtain, and couple of well-placed chairs, we are introduced to Ryan Silverman's attractive Giorgio, a captain in the army from Milan. When the musical opens he is having a fantastic affair with the sensuous Clara; she is played by Melissa Errico, who is beautiful in a voluminous gold dress that matches the streaks of gold in the black marble floor on which they consummate their love connection.
Much to their dismay, Giorgio is sent to a distant outpost, and love letters fly between the two. While Giorgio gets to know the other soldiers, a woman's screams pierce the air. He is told about Fosca by her cousin Doctor Tambourri, a persuasive Tom Nelis, who begs him to help and befriend her. This unfortunate and hateful soul, depicted by the ever-respected Judy Kuhn, falls madly for Giorgio, who is initially repulsed by her. They exchange reading material; Clara withdraws from their relationship citing husband and child as reason. Who knew?
Fosca, pale and wan, is dressed in baggy, ugly clothes. But more than that she is nasty. So it is difficult to imagine Giorgio actually feeling anything for her; but he does. Sondheim's music is as usual compelling, yet I could not help recognize phrases he has used in his other shows. Stephen Bogardus is excellent as Colonel Ricci. The soldiers are all perfectly pitched as they move and sing. A particular standout is Ken Krugman, who is both Lieutenant Turasso and the Father; the tallest of the group, he displayed a magnificent voice.
“Passion” is a quirky look at love and obsession not to be missed. Through April 14 at the Classic Stage Company on East 13th Street in NY.