Haiku Review: Far From Heaven

2 Jul

Kelli O’Hara
Sings on a stage and I feel
All of the feelings.
 
 
 
The 1950s:
Awful social policies
But awesome dresses.
 
 
 
Elegant outsides
Hide inside pain, but with songs!
So take THAT, Mad Men.
 
 
 
Oh man, I was a mess of ugly crying at the end of ‘Far from Heaven’. I have to say I was skeptical when I first heard it was becoming a musical; it seemed to me like the movie was built around a minute subtlety that I thought would be hard to transfer to the larger scale of a stage. But I thought the same thing about ‘Once’, which only goes to show that I know nothing. Because dang, did they capture it. Kelli O’Hara singing at the end, this beautiful creature trapped in a world where she has everything but any freedom or real human connection, just kneed me right in the feelings.
 
One of the pet causes I developed during grad school was trying to make people understand how the music in a musical functions dramaturgically, adding depth, shading, and meaning to the storytelling of a theater piece (as opposed to just adding something pretty while the action halts, an unfortunate misconception that many people have). I will happily break down how Epiphany from ‘Sweeney Todd’ illustrates the ingredients of a mental breakdown, or talk about how ‘Les Mis’ uses a repeated melody to underline two characters’ connection, at pretty much the drop of a hat. ‘Far From Heaven’ has another beautiful example. Kelli O’Hara plays Cathy Whitaker, a suburban housewife with a picture-perfect life; a beautiful house, an admiring social circle, two children, and a seemingly loving marriage to a successful businessman. But as it begins to unravel, the only person that she finds herself able to talk to is her black gardener, Raymond.
 
Cathy’s songs in the first act are lovely, the melodies pretty and the rhythms precise. But when Cathy takes Raymond’s offer of a drive into the countryside and she begins to open up to him, her song changes. The rhythm relaxes, loosening into something with a gentle swing to it, as she tells Raymond the truth about her life and her feelings. It’s the first time we’ve heard anything like this from Cathy, and we know by hearing it that something is different; that being with Raymond allows Cathy to relax in a way she can’t in the rest of her life.
 
It’s a lovely moment, a musical illustration of a connection that might be hard to enact on the larger scale of the stage. And I’m sure there are others – Scott Frankel and Michael Korie are smart smart writers who engage the heart as much as the head. I look forward to listening to the album. And to buying dresses from the ‘I know they’re representative of a crippling social repression and living as a beautiful object to be displayed but they’re still fucking GORGEOUS’ tie-in fashion line that I seriously hope the show launches, because dang.
 
 
 
P.S. I can’t write a haiku about Steven Pasquale, because I don’t know if his last name has two syllables or three (seriously, every time I say his name I go “Steven Pasqual…ee?” Somebody tell me what it actually is!). But it would be about how he’s very good in this, as evidenced by this gorgeous thing and how I’m glad that he and Kelli O’Hara will be starring in ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ together, so they can play beautiful people who actually want to make out with each other.

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