Doctor Zhivago's Sound

The musical based on that Russian classic Doctor Zhivago inevitably evokes comparisons with the Omar Shariff-Julie Christie, David Lean 1965 movie, from Boris Pasternak's 1957 novel. A Broadway show with name recognition, Doctor Zhivago has played in Australia and South Korea--in Korean--and was much loved. Given its politics, that's a coup. Les Miserables Russian style, under Des McAnuff's direction, Doctor Zhivago has The Broadway Theater exploding with war, unexpected petards from the rafters, casting the stage in smoke and fire, and jarring the audience with attention commanding noise. By contrast, Lucy Simon's score with lyrics by Michael Korie and Amy Powers features memorable songs: "Now" and "Love Finds You" are standouts.

The familiar lovers, Tam Mutu as the doctor/poet Zhivago, and Kelli Barrett as Lara give the story its force beginning with his wedding, to Tonya (a fine Lora Lee Gayer), to Lara's wild attempt at shooting Viktor Komarovsky (a very good Tom Hewitt). Traveling the stark and violent terrain, Zhivago takes his family from Moscow, where their home has been overtaken, to what he thinks will be a safe haven in the countryside. More bloodshed and random cruelty ensue. But there, he finds Lara again, working in a library, while her high-minded revolutionary husband Pasha (the excellent Paul Alexander Nolan) has transformed himself into a tyrant.

On opening night, many in the audience remarked on a scrim made of interlocking chairs. (Michael Scott-Mitchell did the set design.) The image brought to mind Marius' song in Les Miserables as he laments his fallen comrades in arms: history may be imagined as a continuum in which the players go missing, their seats empty. As in musicals of such epic sweep, the romance of love intertwined with lofty political ideals makes this Doctor Zhivago completely compelling, as its music is sure to be honored at the coming Tony Awards.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.