top of page

DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES - Atlantic Theater Company

(This review was written for BLICKPUNKT MUSICAL, the German magazine on international musical theatre for which Mr. Dwyer is US reviewer.)

The most anticipated “serious” musical of the New York theater season had its world premiere and a limited run at the Atlantic Theatre, one of New York's leading Off Broadway venues - a musical version of the 1962 Hollywood movie “Days of Wine and Roses”, about a couple struggling with alcoholism. Manhattan theater aficionados looked forward to the show because the couple, famously played by Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick in the film, was cast with the two of the most versatile leading male and female performers now in US musical theater - Brian D’Arcy James (“Shrek”, “Something Rotten!”, “Next to Normal”, etc) and Kelly O’Hara (“South Pacific”. “King and I”, etc).

What’s more, the production reunited playwright Craig Lucas and Tony Award- winning composer Adam Guettel in their first project together since the wonderful “Light in the Piazza” in 2004. (O’Hara played in that, too.) Lucas’s adaptation of the film screenplay, which was based on an original 1958 television play, changes the setting from San Francisco to New York City but time is still 1950. Joe ( D’Arcy James) is an aggressive young PR executive for an advertising agency; he picks up Kristen (O’Hara), secretary to the film’s chief executive at an office party after he initially thinks she’s a “dating” prospect for the firm’s clients. They overcome that clumsiness. She doesn’t drink, but he does and heavily. He persuades her to have a “dessert”, a Brandy Alexander. They fall in love and marry but the two-martini lunch turns into booze 24/7. Alcohol defines their relationship, and their lives.

Lucas pretty much tracks the film’s plotline of Joe and Kristen’s descent into alcoholism. They have a daughter, Kristen becomes the stay-at-home mom, and, in drunken stupor, almost kills herself and daughter in a fire from an errant cigarette. Joe and Krsiten try to get sober at the residence of her widowed father, a distant man of Scandinavian stock, gruffly played by Byron Jennings. The musical includes the famous scene from the movie where Joe destroys his father-in-law’s greenhouse searching for a hidden bottle.

Eventually, Joe finds sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous (Lucas eliminates one of two major relapses of Joe) but Kristen refuses to surrender alcohol. In one of the most emotionally shattering scenes in musical theater I can recall, Joe finds Kristen, missing for days, in a seedy motel room having been on a booze (and sex) bender. Joe dedicates his life to raising their daughter, but Kristen remains estranged from the family, clinging to her private world of alcohol.

Micheal Greif’s direction is straightforward; scenic design is austere, the lighting dark. The production is defined by Guettel’s wondrous score and Kelli O’Hara’s stunning performance. Brian D’Arcy James is spot-on, too; he’s the perfect All-American guy-next-door (think Jack Lemmon).

But the story is really Kristen’s and O’Hara inhabits it totally. It’s difficult to separate her performance from Guettel’s score; O’Hara sings 14 of the show’s 18 numbers, seven of them solos. The songs are vocally challenging; some of the songs are fragmentary, some with unidentifiable beginnings or ends. Some are jazzy, there’s a “happy” duet that’s reprised in the show that captures perfectly the hazy unreality of drink, Some are operatic, the most dramatic aria a song I’ll refer to as “Forgiveness” where Kritsem tries to reconcile her refusal to quit drinking and how that prevents her from parenting the daughter she loves. It’s gut wrenching.

While it’s obvious to focus on O’Hara’s exquisite singing voice, her acting deserves equal credit. What’s remarkable is that in the first 5 minutes of the play, O’Hara lets the audience tacitly know what her character is all about; for the play’s run time of about 100 minutes she brings the character through a perfectly calibrated arc of inevitable, mounting doom. WIth the role of Kristen, O’Hara steps way beyond her stage persona as Rodgers and Hammerstein heroine; her performance as Kristen bests her Nellie Forbush or Anna Leonowens. (Incidentally, Guettel is grandson of Richard Rogers, and his mother was composer Mary Rogers.)

This “Days of Wine and Roses” is not a perfect musical; it will be interesting to see what changes and improvements Lucas and Guettel make should it find a bigger venue for a larger audience. But for those of us who have seen its small premiere, we saw in Kelli O’Hara a performance of a lifetime. Let’s hope we can witness it again.


Featured Posts
Check back soon
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page