Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Passion has always been one of Stephen Sondheim’s more problematic musicals, said Steven Oxman in Variety. “A very controlled show about uncontrolled emotions,” it subjects its characters to far more detailed and introspective analysis than musical theater typically demands. An intimate opera, “musically sumptuous but offbeat,” Passion has baffled more than one director. But not Gary Griffin. The Chicago-based director, who recently directed The Color Purple on Broadway, here works within much more limited means. A five-member orchestra, a small but excellent cast, and a few simple sets serve to highlight the work’s many virtues, which get lost in larger productions. “This is a lovely production, delicate and tuneful,” that directs our attention to where it ought to be: on the two lead actresses. Those would be Ana Gasteyer and Kathy Voytko, said Hedy Weiss in the Chicago Sun-Times. Gasteyer, a former Saturday Night Live cast member, has become a serious presence in Chicago theater. Here, as the rustic Italian invalid Fosca, “she is a ghostly, depressive, sparrow-like creature” who tears her heart out over Adam Brazier’s dashing soldier, Giorgio. Though Giorgio still carries a torch for Voytko’s Clara, the married lover he left behind in Milan, he finds himself “increasingly caught up in the web of passion” that Fosca spins in her inspired arias. Voytko reveals an infrequently explored insecurity behind the beautiful Clara, while Gasteyer’s performance “demonstrates she is a superb and fearless actress” as well as a capable comedian. Unfortunately, “the rest of the show needs to catch up with these two women,” said Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune. Passion is, at its core, a play about an ugly girl—the script has soldiers mock Fosca as a witch—attempting to fight through society’s superficiality. Gasteyer’s splendidly physical performance underscores this theme, “and while her Fosca will surely strike Sondheim purists as vocally (and otherwise) unconventional, it is a rich, consuming, and powerfully affecting” interpretation. Griffin should have been as daring with the rest of his otherwise conventional production. A big problem is Brazier, whose Giorgio forms the crux of the plot, as he must choose between these two powerful women. “Brazier looks the part and sings gorgeously, but he fails to convey all the necessary intellectual complexity of this man.” Griffin, likewise, only grazes the profound depths of Sondheim’s darkly beautiful score.

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