BULLET REVIEW- FLYING OVER SUNSET
LINCOLN CENTER, VIVIAN BEAUMONT (Limited Engagement- Now in Previews)
A Bullet Review
First — let me get your attention. Last night we saw “Flying Over Sunset”, a new musical in previews, at Lincoln Center, with world class acting, beautiful operatic singing, eye-popping tap dancing, a live pit orchestra and elaborate seamlessly integrated video imagery, punctuated by beautiful, large scale, electronic sets. I know!
The show, written and directed by James Lapine, (Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods and Falsettos), with music by Tom Kitt (Next to Normal, Pulitzer Prize and Tony for Best Score) and Lyrics by Michael Korie (Grey Gardens), was supposed to open on March 12, 2020, the day Broadway shut down.
Lapine has woven a fictionalized narrative based on intriguing historic threads from the 1950’s when a fearless elite intelligentsia and their psychiatrists were experimenting with LSD and its ability to melt the architecture of human consciousness.
The story is built around an imagined encounter between three iconic figures of that era who were known to have experimented with acid — Cary Grant, the matinee idol, heartthrob who embodied understated cool; Claire Booth Luce, a famous wealthy socialite, war correspondent, polititian/diplomat and Aldous Huxley author of “Brave New World, described in the lobby handout as a “British literary icon and psychic explorer”. A fourth lesser-known character, Gerald Heard, is referred to in that handout as a “grandfather of “the New Age” and an “advocate of acid (LSD) as a tool for evolving consciousness. Gerald Heard knew Claire Booth Luce and Aldous Huxley. Things take off when the three of them run into Cary Grant in an LA restaurant.
A memorable show-stopping moment was the acid-induced, return to childhood, tap dance duet between Tony Yazbeck, a world-class dancer who plays Cary Grant, and his, dressed as a girl younger self, played by Atticus Ware, as Archie Leach, when Grant was clawing his way out of a miserable childhood by dancing and singing in the London Dance Halls of the 1920s. Atticus Ware is a breathtakingly talented 13 year old, whose show-stopping tap dancing, singing and stage charisma made me want to jump up and yell “bravo”.
Act One moved with an engaging staccato pace that riveted. In Act Two the energy and focus dissipated. According to an usher I asked about the running time it had recently been made shorter. The two hours and forty-minute show I saw was still too long.
The stories of anguished self-discovery at the core this production are only interesting because the characters were celebrities at the same historical moment. Relying on a fictionalized decision to drop acid together as the glue between their parallel psychic journeys-or dare I say trips- felt artificial.
Real critics, who actually know something, will have to answer the question of whether the beautifully performed parts of this blessedly welcome return to live musical theatre were greater than the sum. For this morning after, kitchen table critic, they weren’t.