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Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Tony Award Preview Week: Coram Boy

by Helen Edmundson
directed by Melly Still
starring Jan Maxwell, Bill Camp, Xanthe Elbrick, and Uzo Aduba
Imperial Theatre, New York City

There's nothing I can say that will quite prepare you for the majesty, the joy, and the sheer theatricality of Coram Boy, Helen Edmundson's adaptation of Jamila Gavila's novel about a series of 18th-century scandals in London's orphanages. There's a sense of awe, wonder, and endless imagination at work here, infectious and ripe and bursting at the seams. Much of that imagination stems from the mind of director Melly Still, the young British wunderkind making her stateside debut. Similar to watching John Doyle's Sweeney Todd two seasons ago, a viewer of Coram Boy instantly knows that they are seeing a major new talent break forth on the world stage, a visionary artist who elevates the play and production by the brute force of of theatrical magic.

Sure, it's melodramatic...even overdone. The play's got holes. But even so, I urge you to surrender your heart and mind to it, because you'll be amply rewarded. Still and her creative team bring an epic scope to what is really a small story; the superb production design – especially the award-worthy sets by Still and Ti Green and the evocative sound design of Christopher Shutt – enhances every moment. Edmundsen's detailed and eloquent adaptation (a sense of wide-open possibility that echoes Tony Kushner) utilizes the music of Handel and Adrian Sutton to expressive effect; the production includes the rapturous sounds of a 20-person classical chorus, whose visual presence is as strong as their vocal power.

Among the performances, there are only brilliant turns: Xanthe Elbrick makes a startling debut as two young music students (one in each act); Christine Rouner exudes quiet melancholy as a heartbroken country lady; Bill Camp gallops through his role as a malevolent scalawag; and Tony nominee Jan Maxwell brings sensitive complexity as the accomplice to a heinous crime. Coram Boy is more than just the best play of the year; it is a startling, breathtaking triumph of modern staging, like Sweeney Todd, Metamorphoses, or Nicholas Nickelby. With any luck, it will run for a very long time…but I suggest you buy your tickets right this second. To miss Coram Boy would be a most unforgiveable crime.

UPDATE: Coram Boy composer Adrian Sutton asked me to share his website with our readers, and we're happy to do so: www.adriansutton.com. Truly marvelous work!

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