Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Arlington" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

At the talkback after Friday night's performance of "Arlington" at the Magic Theater, someone said "I don't know what this is. Is it a musical? Is it an opera? I don't know where to put it."

Victor Lodato and Polly Pen's new show is sung all the way through, as if it were an opera, and Analisa Leaming, playing Sara Jane, has an opera background. But there are no soaring arias, and Ms. Leaming has a human-quality voice, quite unlike anything you would hear in the opera house. Polly Pen's score is haunting, but its atonal, arrhythmic nature serves to show us the development of Sara Jane's character, not to give the audience anything to leave the theater humming. There are "songs," which make it more like a musical, but only a few and you don't always know you're listening to one.

The show, by the way, is brilliant. Leaming's performance is as good as anything you will see this season. Though she dominates the action, musical director Jeff Pew, sitting at a raised grand piano at the rear of the stage, is a character as well. At one point, Leaming sits down at an upright piano and plays an intriguing, if too-short duet with Pew. They create a rare back-and-forth musical dialogue that becomes the heart of the show, as the story begins to crystallize around the stories from Arlington National Cemetery.

It's short -- one hour -- and doesn't need to be any longer. Jackson Gay's direction carries us seamlessly through what is at heart a difficult story. This show will go through many changes as it develops, but you must not miss Analisa Leaming's performance here. It could hardly be any more breathtaking.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Arlington" Four Stars. It is that good. We emphasize this is a musical but not a Broadway musical, with operatic form but in no way operatic. You are seeing a hybrid and all you have to do is plug yourself in.
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through December 8

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