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A CurtainUp Review
Wuthering Heights: A Romantic Musical
By Elyse Sommer
Contrary to the penchant for giving cutting edge, updated adaptations of classics, the composer-lyricist-adapter remains true to the period and events of the novel, wisely so since Bronte's timeless tale of starcrossed love works well with his semi-operatic score. The music while not the sort to have you tapping your feet, does tap into your emotions. Neither is it heavy on the dissonance common to modern operas or completely sung-through. Instead it effectively and melodiously moves the narrative through sixteen scenes of smoothly integrated dialogue and songs. It all adds up to a work that holds its own as a musical drama without trying to upstage or improve upon the story. That story, in the unlikely event that you don't remember it, begins when the master of a mansion in the Yorkshire Moors, Wuthering Heights, brings home an unkempt orphan named Heathcliff to be raised with his children, Cathy and Hindley. Hindley immediately resents him, Cathy becomes his best friend.
If you've been to the Mint Theater you'll be asking "but how do you stage a musical with a 12-member cast on this tiny stage? Where can you fit an orchestra?"
Impossible as it seems, director David Leidholdt has, with a scattering of props brought out as needed, used the raised platform and space around it to evoke the plot's three main settings -- Wuthering Heights, the Grange where the Linton family lives (Edgar, who eventually becomes Cathy's husband and Isabella who becomes Heathcliff's wife), and the moors where young Cathy and Heathcliff's friendship blossoms into passion. The grace and simplicity with which the young Cathy and Heathcliff metamorphose into their adult personae epitomizes this triumph over a bare bones design budget. As for the second question, the orchestra consists of a single upright piano and it too works thanks to Peter C. Mills' fine work on the keyboard.
Dick's songs aren't exactly the easiest to sing but most of the actors bring sufficient musical training and acting ability to the task in the ensembles as well as the solos and duets. Jennifer Featherstone doesn't quite capture the dark, temperemental side of Cathy but she has a fine voice. William Thomas Evans is a little too cherubic looking for the brooding Heathcliff, but his singing too couldn't be better and he does become more Heathcliff-like in the second act -- especially in the scene 12 "Come With Me" song when he persuades Isabella to elope with him immediately. Kelly Fleck, who play's Isabella, is a standout, especially when she reprises the leitmotif song "I Love Him" first sung by Cathy. Patti Davidson-Gorbea who plays the devoted maid Nellie is also excellent. Darin Adams, while physically well suited to the role of Edgar Linton, has the most trouble reaching the higher registers of the songs.
The first act has a few numbers which try too hard to sound like a popular musical. It is during such moments that one finds oneself trying to picture this as a musical in a larger space with just a few more of the acouterments of a less budget-constrained production. Still it's in that act we first hear the appropriately catchy credo song, "The Rules of Society." By the final reprise of "Hymn to the House" is sung most people in the audience are likely to agree that even without a speck of glitz this is one of the best musical bargains in town.
For a glossier, bigger musical based on a novel by Emily's sister Jane, see our review of Jane Eyre which opened recently in Los Angeles and is slated for Broadway at an as yet unannounced date and place.