An overproduced, overcomplicated mess. Cringe-worthy. Bloated. The reviews are in for “Sousatka” which opened last night in Toronto. And they’re not pretty.
The musical was supposed to mark a triumphant return for Garth Drabinsky, the fallen film and theater producer who was sent to the slammer in 2009 for fraud and forgery.
Drabinsky, whose Broadway hits included “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Ragtime” in the ‘90s, picked the schmaltzy 1988 Shirley MacLaine film about an over-the-top, Holocaust-survivor piano teacher as his comeback vehicle.
It’s looking like his instincts might have dulled during his unintended vacation.
The show is “hobbled by a weak book and lyrics and even weaker music,” groused Toronto Star critic Karen Fricker today. “A lot of mimed piano playing, light intrigue and hijinks involving sketchily drawn secondary characters, indeterminate talk-singing, effortfully barnstorming group numbers, and several false endings along the way.”
BroadwayWorld the theater-nerd mecca, agreed. “There’s a great show in all that material, somewhere - but this one isn’t it,” wrote the site’s Alan Henry. “A particularly cringe-worthy moment at the end of the first act includes the projections of Jewish faces from the Holocaust filling the auditorium… It comes out of nowhere and seems like a moment designed to trigger a forced somber response.”
Even Mooney on Theater, a Toronto blog, dissed “Sousatzka” as “overblown, unfocused, clunky and often tedious.”
Maybe Drabinsky should consider turning his own saga into a stage vehicle. He and partner Myron Gottlieb were convicted in 2009 of fraud and forgery, according to Deadline.com. Drabinsky was sentenced to five years in prison and served 18 months before being released to a halfway house, and recently completed parole. He also was disbarred and stripped of his Order of Canada, which honors outstanding Canadian citizens. The Ontario Securities Commission restricted Drabinsky from “owning or operating a business or being in a position of responsibility for the management of finances or investments for any other individual, charity, business or institution.” In the months leading up to the show’s opening, Drabinsky had boasted about ambitions to bring it to Broadway, which would represent a stunning triumph for the producer. No word about whether this leaden landing might affect those plans.
As for Drabinsky himself, he offered this statement: “I’ve been producing theater long enough to know that the smartest critics, and the only ones that really matter, are the audiences. Making shows for critics is never a strategy. This show is for the people.”
Michael Kaminer is a frequent contributor to the Forward