‘Wa­ter­fall’ is over the edge

The per­form­ers are over­come by clichés in the new mu­si­cal at Pasadena Play­house.

Los Angeles Times - - THE ARTS - CHARLES McNULTY THEATER CRITIC charles.mcnulty @la­times.com

The les­son of “Wa­ter­fall,” the er­satz new mu­si­cal at the Pasadena Play­house, is that you can’t judge a show by the re­sumes of the artists.

Richard Maltby Jr., who wrote the book and lyrics, won a Tony for his di­rec­tion of “Ain’t Mis­be­havin’” and has re­ceived a slew of nom­i­na­tions for his Broad­way work as a pro­ducer, writer and lyri­cist.

David Shire, who com­posed the mu­sic, has a bio stuffed with ac­co­lades, in­clud­ing two Gram­mys and an Academy Award. “Baby,” the 1983 show that Maltby and Shire col­lab­o­rated on, hasn’t had such a stel­lar af­ter­life, but it re­ceived mul­ti­ple Tony nom­i­na­tions.

“Wa­ter­fall” stars Emily Pad­gett, the tal­ented so­prano who lit up the re­cent Broad­way re­vival of “Side Show” as one of the con­joined twins. Bie Sukrit — touted in the pro­gram as “one of Thai­land’s most ac­com­plished singers and ac­tors, and big­gest stars” — is the male lead.

Broad­way vet­eran chore­og­ra­pher Dan Knecht­ges co-di­rected the show with Tak Viravan, who is ap­par­ently “one of the most inf lu­en­tial fig­ures in Thai­land’s en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try.”

With such a fancy pedi­gree, one would ex­pect at the very least a pol­ished pro­duc­tion. But “Wa­ter­fall” is to Broad­way-qual­ity mu­si­cal theater what an am­a­teur wa­ter­color is to a land­scape paint­ing hang­ing in the Nor­ton Simon Mu­seum.

This will­fully old-fash­ioned mu­si­cal wants so badly to be pretty in its scenic frills and sen­ti­men­tal flour­ishes that it en­tirely for­gets about be­ing true. Stitched to­gether from cli- chés that scream cliché, re­plete with rhymes that a third-grader could guess and set to mu­sic so generic that it can seem com­puter gen­er­ated, the show re­cy­cles Golden Age tropes with­out re­new­ing their es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent: sin­cer­ity.

This is one of those love sto­ries, set in Ja­pan in the years lead­ing up to World War II, that even Puc­cini might have found trite.

Pad­gett plays Kather­ine, the beau­ti­ful Amer­i­can wife of Chao Khun Atikarn (Thom Sesma), a much older Si­amese states­man, who is ne­go­ti­at­ing a treaty with Ja­pan. Nop­pon (Sukrit), a tal­ented Si­amese stu­dent who is ob­sessed with all things Amer­i­can, is as­signed to keep Kather­ine com­pany. He promptly falls in love with this am­a­teur painter who teaches him a les­son in the poignancy of beauty.

Not just any love, mind you — but the soul-quak­ing, irony-free kind of amour that hap­pens within the an­ti­quated scope of grand op- era, 19th cen­tury tu­ber­cu­lar drama and weepy blackand-white movie melo­drama. Nat­u­rally, the plot is chock­ablock with scan­dalous se­crets, mar­i­tal and cul­tural ob­sta­cles to bliss and fear­some his­tor­i­cal tur­moil (not just the im­pend­ing war but Siam’s tran­si­tion to mod­ern Thai­land).

Sukrit is hand­somely en­dear­ing, Pad­gett sings pret­tily and Sesma brings a much-needed dig­nity, but they are sink­ing in a quick­sand of ba­nal­i­ties. The first act ends with Sukrit rip­ping off his shirt and em­brac­ing Pad­gett be­side a wa­ter­fall, and the cli­max in­volves a deathbed. Pad­gett’s stilted in­to­na­tion so ex­ag­ger­ates the dia­logue’s hack­neyed na­ture that the per­for­mance might be mis­taken for camp were it not for the hu­mor­less­ness of the role.

The stag­ing has the trin­ket-y thrills of one of those com­mer­cials for live en­ter­tain­ment that blare in the back seat of Las Ve­gas taxis.

There’s some fizzy cul­tur- al cri­tique in the num­ber “Amer­ica Will Break Your Heart,” but the ma­te­rial is not well in­te­grated into the ro­man­tic sto­ry­line. The Pasadena Play­house is nobly com­mit­ted to di­ver­sity, but of­fer­ings of this clumsy, ob­so­lete, baldly com­mer­cial kind only harm the non­profit theater’s stand­ing.

Katie Falken­berg Los An­ge­les Times

EMILY PAD­GETT has shone on Broad­way and Bie Sukrit is the pride of Thai­land, but they sink amid the ba­nal­i­ties plagu­ing “Wa­ter­fall.”

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