Dorian’s Descent Still Needs Work

 

By John Farrell

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray was crying out to be made into a musical after Jekyl and Hyde and many other Victorian classics were produced with varied success.

Dorian’s Descent, the world premier at the MET Theatre that opened the end of May, tries hard to fill that void, but it does it with only mild success. It is a great production, featuring a cast of 18, a seven-member pit orchestra led by Chris Raymond, wonderful production values in the small MET Theatre including more than a few choreographed scenes and a few riveting performances (although not, unfortunately, of Dorian, played by Michael D’Elia).

But it’s a musical, and all musicals live and die by their music. It has a book by Raymond, Marco Gomez and Michael Gray, lyrics by Gomez and Raymond and music also by Raymond, but nary a hit in the show’s almost hour-long production. Every so often there seems to be a promising tune, but even when they have great names, like “The Demon’s Cavatina” and “The 11-11 Club Blues,” when they start to work the often leaden lyrics distract your attention. “We all win if we live a life of sin” is an example and there are plenty of others.

This is a world premier, though, so maybe the lyrics (and the too-long book) will be cut and revised later.

Still there is plenty to like in Dorian’s Descent. If D’Elia is dull as the good Dorian, when he begins his life of sin he does get better. Cassandra Nuss is delightful, wonderful to look at and affecting as Sybil Vane, the woman Dorian drives to early suicide. Kelly Brighton is extraordinarily as the roue Henry Wotton, not quite comic relief but always on the scene to keep things flowing and uttering Wilde’s witticisms to boot. Jeremy Sage is Basil Hallward, the painter whose portrait of Dorian is enchanted and who cares about Dorian in a slightly more than fatherly way. Toni Smith plays the Demon who buys Dorian’s soul and she does a good job vamping the house, though her songs are less than delightful.

Gomez directs the story he helped write, and he manages to get all the action on one big stage, with the help of a rotating stage on the left side. Raymond does a great job with the music he wrote and the hidden band in back of the action. Tania Cossick’s choreography is often effective, though not always. (Some dance scenes seem little more than routine.) Michael Mullin’s costumes are effective and sometimes exciting and John Iacovelli does a decent job with the scenery, though you wonder just when this story is set: Victorian era, Edwardian, mid-60s or 2005?

The special portrait by Karen Sanchez is intriguing. Its changes to reflect Dorian’s descent and then his death are interesting.

Dorian’s Descent must still be called a work-in-progress, but it’s worth seeing what has been created so far and to be able to say you saw it first. The MET Theater is a bit of a trial if you hate climbing stairs, but they do offer parking.

Tickets are $30 to $34.99, seniors and students pay $20. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m., through July 20, with the theater dark on July 4.

Details: (323) 802-4990; www.doriansdescent.com

Venue: The MET Theatre

Location: 1089 Oxford Ave., Los Angeles

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