I must say that I hated this show at first, but it slowly one me over, not to love, but to a respect for what it was doing. The primary conceit is based on historical fact. The Russian composer and pianist Serge Rachmaninoff went into a three year period of writer's block after the disastrous premiere of his first symphony. Eventually he turned to a hypnotherapist, Nicolai Dahl, and regained confidence in his creative abilities. The first result was his second piano concerto, dedicated to Dahl. PRELUDES isn't a conventional historical play, though based on historical fact; nor is it a conventional musical, though it is filled with music, most of it Rachmaninoff's or Malloy's original numbers (few are conventional songs) based loosely on the composer's work. The set is a hodgepodge of past and present furniture and artifacts (a modern kitchen stands at stage right) that mirror's the show's style. The characters sometimes seem historical, sometimes contemporary in their language and acting style. Occasionally, a character will grab a microphone and move into a contemporary musical style -- a convention obviously influenced by the musical, SPRING AWAKENING. Dahl is played by an African-American woman (Eisa Davis), as is Rachmaninoff's wife (Nikki M. James). For some reason, the great Russian bass Fyodor Chaliapin is a regular presence (great performance by Joseph Keckler). Chris Sarandon plays a number of older parts including Leo Tolstoy, with whom Rachmaninoff had a disastrous meeting during his dark years. The always winning Gabriel Ebert plays Rachmaninoff. If only he could sing! However, during the performance I contemplated how out of touch I am with much contemporary musical theatre and performance. Good, trained voices are important to me, but they aren't important to a young audience. The unconventional style of some of Malloy's music doesn't move me, but I could say the same thing of the music of IOWA and ONCE. It's partly my problem. Yet the second half of PRELUDES has some truly beautiful ballads.
Special mention has to be made of the performance of pianist-muical director-performer Or Matias who plays Rachmaninoff's creative alter-ego. Matias is center stage throughout at a baby grand piano set on a revolve. He plays constantly (without music) many of Rachmaninoff's pieces and accompanies the performers (along with two synthesizer players). He also has to act and sing. He's the real star of the show.
As I said, PRELUDES won me over. I'm tempted to go again. It's unconventional, but fascinating.
PRELUDES. LCT 3 at the Claire Tow Theatre. May 27, 2015.