Creative processes are tricky. I enjoyed the presentation very much, but couldn't shake the feeling that it was in a place of transitional labor -- oof. The hardest part of birthing. I could tell before the show even started: the Artistic Director of the hosting theater stood up and gave a bit of a rambling curtain speech and then called attention to the row of Creatives sitting in the back row. They nervously shifted in their chairs as we politely applauded them. I sensed that they really loved their baby and reaaallllly wanted us to love it, too. They seemed excited and terrified to have it exposed to an audience.
Well, I have good and bad news. The cast they assembled was phenomenal. Every single person in the cast had vocal chords made of gold. However, in my opinion, at least forty minutes can be cut from the show. A bunch of songs that don't forward the plot can be cut and - in fact - an entire subplot with two romantic leads can be cut.
I know, I know! Not the hot, young romantic leads!
(But it's called "Lord Tom," so I want more time with Tom, please!)
I can understand why it is hard to make those cuts when the people onstage are singing their guts out so spectacularly. You hear someone sing a song so well and then audience roars and you think, "How could we possibly cut that?"
Art is hard.
For example, the wife of the plantation manor ran on stage and told one of her slaves to run immediately because an awful fate was about to befall her. The wife then fearfully ran off stage ("I've said too much and shouldn't be discovered here!" Then, the slave character turned out to the audience and started singing an slow, spiritual anthem. I tilted my head, furrowed my brow and whispered, "well….she better run!" to my friend, who indicted that she was thinking the same thing.
So...I get it. The anthem was rousing and the actress who sang it, SAAAAAANG it. But that song was such a speed bump in the story. If someone frantically runs up to you and tells you to run away immediately if you want to survive...you should do that. Maybe save the rousing anthem for when you are tucked far away where your pursuers can't find you?
The show garnered a standing ovation at the end. I don't know what that achieved for the creative team. The audience was clearly full of friends of the people in the cast, so of course they thought it was amazing. I hope the creatives are able to separate the "heightened friend emotions" from the facts in their post mortem. There were a couple of very clear we-have-to-keep-this-song moments, but lots of (really good) material could be sacrificed to keep the story clear. I hope to see this show move forward. It's a really wonderful, important book and I can't believe it hasn't been turned into a modern, mostly sung-through musical until now!