Well, there is always the theater. The new Uris Theater is absolutely splendid. It has space and grandeur. It holds 1,800 persons, and from the inside - it has no outside for it is tucked away in a basement - it looks like one of those modern German opera houses. It probably would be suitable for both opera and ballet.
It had its official opening last night with a musical called "Via Galactica." It is a space-age musical, they say. but at times there appears to be more inner vacuum than outer space. The attempt was a worthy one to produce a new kind of musical. It was to be more operatic than before, with no spoken dialogue. The idea is sensible. So what went wrong?
Not Galt MacDermot's music. This is perhaps not such a melodious or inventive score as he provided earlier this season for "Dude", which was very good indeed, but it does have the bounce and radiance that are MacDermot trademarks. Also, the mechanical, space age look of the musical is appealing and imaginative. I think the basic trouble with the evening is the banality of the book, which has no interest and no point of contact with the audience. It is a difficult show to care for.
In 1959, in Stockholm, Goeran Gentele directed Karl-Birger Blomdahl's so-called space opera, "Aniara," about a doomed space ship. Musically, it was less than distinguished, but its chief fault, as I recall, was precisely this same antiseptic remoteness from its audience. Admittedly space fiction can provide thrills, and even - remember Stanley Kubrick's "2001" - considerable visual excitement, but not, I think, on stage.
The book for "Via Galactica" is by Christopher Gore and Judith Ross, and it is intended to demonstrate the vitality and humanity of men. The time is 1,000 years in the future. Earth has conquered the entire solar system. But, friends, let's face it, it has lost its soul. Everyone is blue and conditioned. They wear spinning hats, never love, never hate, have babies in test tubes and dutifully commit suicide on their 55th birthday.
The hero, Gabriel Finn, is a garbage collector. He gets the earth's garbage and pollutes outer space with it. One day his garbage collection ship is space jacked and taken to a small asteroid, called Ithica. Here is a collection of nonconformists who live with the old differences, in a community led by a scientist Dr. Isaacs, who has only his brain left alive, and his wife Omaha, who is chiefly body.
The story is appallingly weak, and I cannot see why you should have to be bored with it. And the writing is flat and platitudinous. Presumably everyone thought that with a truly sumptuous and adventurous staging, Mr. MacDermot's music would do the trick. This was a miscalculation.
The staging was undertaken by Peter Hall, assisted, in various capacities, by George Faison, Geoffrey Cauley and Patrick Libby. Mr. Hall, it appears, has recently come under the influence of the young South American director, Victor Garcia. Mr. Hall used complex machinery, as Mr. Garcia did for his recent Madrid "Yerma". But Mr. Hall is not so successful with the machinery.
The well publicized use of trampolines, to suggest weightlessness, suggests nothing more than people bouncing up and down on trampolines. The mechanical space garbage cart (looking not at all futuristic incidentally) is all too clearly chained to the stage, and the attacking space ship from earth looks like a displaced lighting fitting.
By splitting the stage up into segments with his trampolines, Mr. Hall not only puts two clashingly different movement patterns on stage at once, he also makes the stage difficult to work on. The trampolines should have gone, but with the trampolines also would also have gone the shows one small claim to innovation.
Mr. Hall, then, seems to have outsmarted himself, but the scenery and costumes by John Bury are mostly brilliant. The look of the show is very classy; it has whirling stars and shimmering asteroids. the space ships themselves are altogether less effective, but that was presumably inevitable.
the cast works attractively. Keene Curtis as the disembodied,
professorial head, is fine and sings well, and Virginia Vestoff scores
as the life-assertive Omaha. However, it is Raul Julia's show, and
his charm and presence are always evident. It is his performance
as Gabriel Finn that ranks among the principal assets, and it is a show
that although not quite as bad as preview word-of-mouth loudly suggested
does need every asset it can get. But it is a lovely theater.
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