FAR FROM HEAVEN (@ SpeakEasy Stage through Oct. 11th) is a musical remake of the 2002 Todd Haynes movie of the same name—which itself is an homage/remake of the 1955 Douglas Sirk Technicolor soap opera, ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (which was also adapted, brilliantly I might add, by Rainer Werner Fassbinder but that has nothing to do with this). They all center round a woman whose “picture perfect” life is turned upside down—who then turns to her gardener for support, thereby scandalizing friends, family and, it seems, the whole world: Certainly, her whole world.
The scandal in the 1955 film stems from the difference in their ages and social positions: The housewife is considerably older and wealthier than the gardener. In the 2002 FAR FROM HEAVEN movie, the scandal is race and social status. I’m swept away every time I see the corny Rock Hudson/Jane Wyman vehicle (Turner Classic Movies loves Sirk) but the musical, alas, just didn’t do it for me. It should have. The book by Richard Greenberg avoids a whitewash of the 1950s. I grew up in the homophobic, racist, republican decade: No picnic if you were poor or gay or African-American. All I can say about the ‘50s is thank God for the ‘60s.
Director Scott Edmiston and music director Steven Bergman have a talented cast to interpret the material but the problem, I think, with FAR FROM HEAVEN is the material. No matter how you approach it, you’re still stuck with Michael Korie’s impossible lyrics. Poor Jennifer Ellis rhapsodizes about “Heaven [having created] Connecticut” and being “sure they broke the mold.” It’s supposed to show her naïveté but it’s so bloody bland and it works against the story. Ditto her dialogue: She wants to go to Florida because everything there is “pink!” Good Lord.
Scott Frankel’s score is so dissonant, I didn’t think I could weather another distorted merry-go-round plunge down the scale. I had high hopes for the song, “What’s it like being THE ONLY ONE” (for the white housewife and the Black gardener) but then they did it to death. Charles Schoonmaker’s period costumes (some more 40s than 50s) are gorgeous, especially the chocolate/mocha/beige cocktail dresses and I got a kick out of David Connolly’s hipster, jazzy “chair” choreography for the guys on a bench outside the office.
For me, the acid test is whether or not other musicals cross my mind while I’m watching. I’m truly sorry to say they did and when Maurice Emmanuel Parent boards the train for a better life in Baltimore, all I could think of was: He’ll meet John Waters and be in a much better musical there.