The People in the Picture, book and lyrics by Iris Rainer Dart, music by Mike Stoller and Artie Butler, Roundabout Theatre Company, Studio 54, Broadway, 4/1/11-6/19/11. http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/broadway/thepeopleinthepicture/index.htm
Reviewed by Becca Kidwell
How can we ever forget the past? How can remember? These questions surface for Raisel and Red when Jenny asks her Bubbie who the people in the picture are. They are Raisel’s friends and theatre/film company. These people hold the key to Jenny’s heritage and must instill it within her despite her mother’s objections and grandmother’s failing health. Although the story and score are uneven, the talent and the sentiment carry the show through joy and heartbreak.
Donna Murphy spends the majority of the show as Jenny’s Bubbie who tries to pass down her family’s history. Ms. Murphy shows her versatility by not only providing a strong dramatic performance but also by providing comedic moments depicting Raisel’s younger days. Raisel shows her granddaughter Jenny (played by Rachel Resheff) the life that she and her theatre/film company had. She tries to only share positive memories, but the horrible realities underneath keep seeping through. Raisel’s daughter Red (played by Nicole Parker) pushes for the entire truth to be known and not simply a pleasant mythology. Ms. Murphy’s acting, singing, and dancing flow effortlessly and show the whimsy, pain, and sacrifice that make up Raisel’s life.
Rachel Resheff plays Raisel’s granddaughter Jenny who asks about “the people in the picture”. Her Bubbie/Raisel begins to share the Warsaw Gang’s exploits in theatre and film. Jenny savors and embraces every story. Jenny’s mother resents what she considers a revisionist history and constantly discourages Bubbie’s tales. As the tension between Raisel and Red grows, Jenny begins to long for the day when she can leave her mother and the constant tension. Although the story does not clarify the point well, Jenny becomes the conduit for Red and Raisel to connect. Rachel Resheff holds her own with the strong adult cast and displays maturity beyond her years.
As Red, Nicole Parker’s talent and range are neglected. Red is bitter with her mother and rejects all parts of her heritage and discourages Jenny from getting pulled into Raisel’s stories. The lack of character development leaves the audience to wonder if this bitterness is simply a lifelong grudge towards her mother for one incident or if other factors contributed to this discord between mother and daughter. Without further explanation, Red’s actions seem cruel and do not account for her swift turn around at the end of the musical. One can understand where the pain originates from but has difficulty with Red not being capable of even respecting the sacrifice her mother made for her. Ms. Parker has a strong voice and presence that comes through particularly in the song “Now and Then”. Hopefully, Ms. Parker will have more opportunities to showcase her talent in future roles.
The “people in the picture” or the Warsaw Gang consists of Chip Zien, Lewis J. Stadlen, Joyce VanPatten, Alexander Gemignani, and Chris Innvar. They provide balance and context to the historical part of the drama. They do not allow Raisel to be over-sentimental about her memories and help her to face the most painful parts. The Warsaw Gang provides contrast between the camaraderie of their group and the enmity of Red’s family. The actors maintain a solid base for the past to be explored.
The story itself is full of holes and amounts to the equivalent of a made-for-tv-movie melodrama; like Iris Rainer Dart’s movie adaptation of Beaches, the show garners its strength from its formidable cast. The second act gives more substance than the first but still leaves most of the characters and story with little depth. TNETG. 6/5/11.