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A CurtainUp Review
A Fine and Private Place

by Elyse Sommer
The grave is a fine and private place.
But none, I think, do there embrace

--- Andrew Marvell, "To His coy Mistress."

Christiane Noll  & Glenn Seven Allen
Christiane Noll & Glenn Seven Allen
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
A fantasy set in a cemetery in which four characters -- two dead, and two alive-- examine their lives and fall in love as they wander around the graves and mausoleums. To pump up the fantastical aura, there's a mischievous Raven who clucks but doesn't sing and is played by a feather bedecked human.

If this sounds a bit too quaint and cutesy, a musical take off on Christopher Durang's Miss Witherspoon (review), don't let that stop you from seeing A Fine and Private Place. This new musical, based on Peter S. Beagle's 1960 novel of the same name, is a genuine charmer. Its lovely score is sensitively staged and beautifully sung without any miking. In this day of musicals so over-amplified that the most beautiful voices have a hollow sound that's a not to be missed treat. Listening to the two young lovers -- soprano Christiane Noll and tenor Glenn Seven Allen -- is a special bonanza for ears eager for that most beautiful of instruments, the pure human voice.

The program lists the cemetery where the living and ghostly characters keep running into each other Yorkchester Cemetery, but New Yorkers familiar with the Bronx will recognize that it's modeled on Woodlawn Cemetery. The York's artistic director and chief scenic designer, James Morgan, has beautifully captured that cemetery as a somewhat eerie but tranquil place, with Scott DelaCruz's skyscraper projections and Jeff Croiter's lighting evoking its sense of being near yet far from bustling New York City. The 5-member orchestra does full justice to Richard Isen's melodic score without ever drowning out the lyrics.

The plot in brief: Jonathan Rebeck (Joseph Kolinski) is a most unusual homeless person. He's been living in a mausoleum for years, his meals frequently supplied by a predatory Raven (played with somewhat overcooked whimsy by director Gabriel Barre). Jonathan insists that what keeps him in the cemetery is a special gift for communicating with and helping the newly arrived ghosts to cope with their new state of being. He also hopes to engage some of them in a game of chess, as he did Morris Clapper, whose widow Gertrude (Evalyn Baron) visits his grave constantly rather than getting on with her life -- that is, until she meets Rebeck, whom she initially mistakes for Morris. We first meet Michael Morgan (Glen Seven Allen), a mid-thirties writer, having what he thinks is a nightmare but what is actually his funeral service (a rather off-putting and disturbing image likely to make a few people in the audience opt for cremation). Unlike Michael, who fights the idea of being dead before having lived his life, Laura Durand (Christiane Noll), welcomes the embrace of the grave since her life held little excitement.

Can Gertrude persuade Jonathan to leave his strange and lonely life? Can Laura find the love that eluded her in life with Michael, and can their ghostly romance help Michael to deal with the traumas that led to his early death? Given the gently humorous tone that permeates this story, you can expect love and wisdom to prevail -- but not without some surprising and fanciful hi jinks that are abetted by a good fairy in the guise of the cemetery gate keeper.

As Barre's Raven "nevermore" fails to amuse, so Barre the director smoothly and nimbly maneuvers his cast through the shifts between the real and fantasy sequences. Erik Haagersen's libretto strikes a good balance between dialogue and songs. Ms. Baron's adds a nice touch of musical comedy and Kolinski sings powerfully, but it's Noll and Allen's voices that send chills down a music lover's spine. Two of the most effective songs, "Quartet" and "What Should I Do?" feature all four.

Haagensen and Isen wrote this show with an off-Broadway home in mind and the small St. Peter's Theater that the York calls home is the perfect setting to bring out its delicate intimacy. For me, having seen another delightfully unmiked and talent-rich off the beaten path musical, Iron Curtain (review) two Saturdays ago and A Fine and Private Place the Saturday afterwards, offset some far less satisfying big Broadway openings attended during the same period. Who said small can't be beautiful?

Music & Lyrics by Erik Haagensen and Music by Richard Isen, based upon the 1960 novel by Peter S. Beagle
Directed by Gabriel Barre
Cast: Glenn Seven Allen (Michael Morgan), Gabriel Barre (Raven, Campos), Joseph Kolinski (Jonathan Rebeck), Christiane Noll (Laura Durand), Evalyn Baron (Gertrude Clapper)
Set Design: James Morgan
Costume Design: Pamela Scofield
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Eric McMiller
Projection Design: Scott DelaCruz
Orchestra: Reeds/ Alan Brady; Piano / Milton Granger; Violin/ Suzy Perelman; Percussion / Barbara Merjan; Keyboard / David Wolfson
Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, includes intermission
York Theatre Company, Saint Peter’s Theatre, Citigroup Center, 619 Lexington Avenue (54th Street just east of Lexington) 212-868-4444 or
From 4/13/06 to 5/21/06; opening 4/27/06
Mondays and Wednesdays toSaturdays at 8:00 p.m; Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2:30 p.m.; Sundays at 3:00 p.m. >
Tickets: $50. Student tickets are available on the day of the performance for $20, subject to availability.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on April 22nd press performance
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Prologue/ Rebeck
  • I'm Not Going Gently / Michael
  • Much More Alike / Rebeck
  • You Know What Mean/ Klapper
  • A Fine and Private Place/ Laura and Michael
  • As Long As I Can / Michael
  • Stop Kidding Yourself /Rebeck
  • One Last Chance/ Laura
  • The'I'elepathetique / Michael, Laura. Klapper
  • What Did You Expect? / Laura
  • Let Me Explain / Michael
  • It's None of My Business /Klapper & Rebeck
  • Quartet / Michael, Laura, Rebeck. Klapper
Act Two
  • What Should I Do? / Klapper, Laura, Rebeck, Michael
  • Close Your Eyes / Laura
  • Argument / Rebeck & Klapper
  • No One Ever Knows / Klapper
  • Because of Them All / Michael & Laura
  • Much More Alive (reprise) / Rebeck
  • Do Something / Laura, Michael, Rebeck
  • How Can I Leave Here? / Rebeck
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