SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE
Words and Music by Michael John LaChiusa
Director/Set Designer: Jac Alder
Music Director: Terry Dobson
Costume Design: Michael Robinson
Lighting Design: Josh Blann
Stage Manager: Sally Soldo
Technical Director: Daniel Pucul
Scenic Artist: David Walsh
Production Assistant: Maryam Baig Lush
Production Crew: Katherine Marchant, David Pluebell,
Gillian Salerno-Rebic and Christine Smith
Piano/Keyboards: Terry Dobson
Woodwinds: Ellen Kaner
Louis/Morito/CPA: Jackie L. Kemp
Medium/Aunt Monica: Amy Mills
Kesa/Wife/Actress: Jennifer Noth
Thief/Reporter: Daylon Walton
Janitor/Priest: Ashley Wood
Reviewed Performance 7/18/2011
Reviewed by Jason Kane, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Theatre Too is following Theatre Three's upstairs production of "Pippin", one of the chestnuts of the musical theatre canon, with its almost polar opposite - Michael John LaChiusa's "See What I Want To See". A two-act musical that tells three tales loosely based on Japanese short stories, "See What I Want To See" is sometimes esoteric, sometimes achingly beautiful, but almost always entertaining and fulfilling.
The esoteric part might leave the casual theatre-goer scratching his or her head. LaChiusa's music is very complex; moreover, he doesn't write a lot of hummable melodies like "Pippin's" Stephen Schwartz. But the composer is shrewd. Every once in a while he gives your ears a rest, laying forth an accessible tune like the title song, "Big Money" and "Glory Day" you can sit back and enjoy.
LaChiusa's music is character-driven, rooted in emotion and intent. It can also be extremely difficult to learn. So it's hats-off to the cast under the musical direction of the superb Terry Dobson that the "work" doesn't show onstage. Every last member of the ensemble delivers with confidence.
Act I begins with a kabuki-style traditional scene with a porcelain painted lady (Jennifer Noth) singing about kissing her lover "for the last time". Costumed beautifully by Michael Robinson, both the geisha and her lover seem ripped right out of a Japanese fairytale. When their vignette is complete the scene shifts to 1950's New York City where the audience "jury" is shown four different sides of the same story. A janitor (Ashley Wood) tells his side from the witness stand.
A thief (Daylon Walton) recounts his side from his jail cell. The sugar baby wife (Noth) does the same from hers. And well...dead men may tell no tales but the hubby (Jackie L. Kemp) still has his say by way of a medium (Amy Mills). As their tales diverge, when it comes to specifics the ultimate result is to underline the title of the show - we all see what we want to see.
When "See What I Wanna See" opened at the Public Theater off-Broadway in 2006 its second act packed a punch with New Yorkers who were still struggling to deal with 9/11. You would think that five extra years and distance geographically would dull the effects of its powerful story but that doesn't seem to be the case.
I spoke with an audience member both at intermission and after the show, and she was incredibly moved by the story of a priest who has lost his faith as a result of the horrific events of 9/11.
The priest, who is powerfully played by Theatre Too and Three veteran Wood, decides to fabricate a miracle to show once and for all that God has left the building. As he meets the various characters that yearn, need, for the miracle to happen he goes through his own metamorphosis. The second act hits on a visceral level the first act doesn't even approach and makes the whole evening worthwhile.
An amazing cast of five plays every character in all three stories (I actually had to double-check that. I could have sworn there were more people in the show) and each has his/her chance to shine.
Particularly of note is Amy Mills as the brash Aunt Monica, channeling part-Merman/part-Estelle Getty as she practically force-feeds lasagna and Socialism to her wayward priest of a nephew. Daylon Walton shows new range as the rock-n-roll thief in Act I and a debonair CBS reporter in Act II.
Jennifer Noth is radiant as the actress in Act II but she seems hindered by her near-frumpy costuming as the wife in Act I. The effect should be smoldering and sexy but the dress she's wearing leaves her left with little more than two-bit floozy.
The set design by director Jac Alder makes very good use of the cramped Theatre Too space. Things are kept simple eschewing the ornate for the simple and direct. Along with Josh Blann's subtle lighting design Alder creates shadows and tableau throughout the show to wonderful effect, especially during Act II when actions behind a scrim combine with what's in front to form a truly beautiful image.
Even though the two-member orchestra is augmented by accompaniment tracks, Dobson must be working miracles backstage. The sound is rich and full, and I can't imagine it sounding better with an orchestra size of ten pieces or more.
"See What I Wanna See" is a gamble for Theatre Too but it is one that pays off handsomely. Be warned however. If your tastes run more towards "My Fair Lady" or "The Sound of Music" you may not see what you want to see. If you open your mind and take the journey however, you just might experience your own miracle.
See What I Wanna See
Theatre Too at Theatre 3 in the Quadrangle
2800 Routh Street, Suite 168. Dallas, TX 75201
Runs through August 14th
Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00pm, and Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm
Ticket Prices are $25 & $30 and may be purchased by calling T3's box office at 214-871-3300 (option #1) or online at www.theatre3dallas.com.