The lustre is lacking, but the performers bring their own shine
By Kim Edwards
Anthony Warlow received a standing ovation for Melbourne’s opening night of the new musical Dr. Zhivago, and it was richly deserved.
His sumptuous voice soars through Lucy Simon’s melodious ballads, and his sleek performance of Zhivago slides easily between delicate characterization and the sweeping charisma that made him glorious on the Australian and international stage.
However, the vehicle for his achievement has the propensity to be as clunky and awkward as the show’s cumbersome ‘train’ set piece. Dr. Zhivago the musical boasts a lavish and quite lovely score, a famous and beloved tale to tell, and fine performances from an excellent cast. But even the man himself could not overcome the problems of trite lyrics, perfunctory character development, historical caricature and messy staging.
Rising star Lucy Maunder has a bright beautiful voice, and is charming as Lara, although she is given little room to explore the character emotionally. Her lovely co-star Taneel van Zyl has even less opportunity in the thankless role of Tonia.
Fortunately Pasha the revolutionary-turned-rogue is fleshed out more fully, and allows dynamic Martin Crewes to rip into his character and create a ferocious, flamboyant and strangely pathetic and appealing man as Zhivago’s foil and reflection.
While clearly necessary to truncate an epic history and vast landscape for a two-act musical on a proscenium stage, sadly this is not managed well. The set is versatile but dull and the projections of giant figures looming over the action are disconcerting and distracting.
Great battles, tragic events and extraordinary moments of emotional possibility are packaged up into menial exposition, running about with chairs, and songs (in a story about a poet, no less) with relentless rhyming couplets so predictable they become painful.
Having said this, the show is by no means boring. The blocking is full of action and interest (although peasants suddenly turning from rural Russia to push a train into Moscow was one of several jarring continuity breaks). The cast work energetically through their material, and the wedding dancing by the revolutionaries and the lively female opening number for Act II were highlights.
Act II is generally superior in pace and excitement: there is also particularly beautiful lighting in the abandoned house, and the powerful confrontation of Zhivago and Pasha is more moving than the finale.
Playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne, Dr Zhivago is emphatically an enjoyable night out: if it does not achieve all the profound tragedy, romance and grandeur the tale deserves, hearing Warlow make magic once again is wonderfully worthwhile.
Photos by Kurt Sneddon