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Thursday
Feb182016

The Passionate Debate Over Porchlight's "Far From Heaven"

- "This is an unusual subject for a musical.” 

- “This made me recall back in the 1950s when we showed up to our hotel with our live-in black housekeeper – and our reservation suddenly ‘disappeared’.”

- “I remember my mother using the word ‘negroes’ when I was growing up. That’s just the way they talked.”

-“The father in the musical, his struggle with being gay, I know that guy. He was my uncle.”

These are just a few of the responses that audiences have offered to me in the lobby following performances of Far From Heaven. It’s the kind of conversation that is being generated in post show discussions, at the bar on intermission and, I understand, ongoing for days afterword following performances of this production.

Recently, two noted Chicago critics have come to verbal blows on air over their visceral response to the artistic approach to the subject matter, and passionate discussions have begun to arise regarding authors’ responsibility when interpreting the lives of people of a different race from a different time in our American history.

 

For us here at Porchlight Music Theatre, it is incredibly rewarding to learn that the kind of musical that Oscar Hammerstein II foresaw back in the 1920s, and that Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim and Kander & Ebb advanced in the 1950s and ’60s has come to fruition and is thriving today; the kind of musical that GETS PEOPLE TALKING.

Far From Heaven is the story of a woman in her time - an American woman in a particular moment in America when there were certain “rules.” To again reference Oscar Hammerstein II, this is a woman who has been “Carefully Taught” to think a certain way.

These days, musicals based on films are nothing new as Hairspray, Sister Act and Saturday Night Fever demonstrate. But musicals that make us think - and even argue – about the artistic content, approach or message are rare and far between. Certainly Spring Awakening, Next to Normal, South Pacific, Annie Get You Gun and Show Boat are titles that, recently, have caused intense conversation due to content in the script or lyrics.

The source of Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes’ 2002 multi award-winning film, painted an idyllic picture of 1950s life in America as seen through the distorted eyes one might observe in an “educational” film of the era. You remember those 16mm movies that taught us what it was to be a stand-up citizen, how to be “popular,” what was “normal” and what (or whom) to fear?

This stylized approach to the story of the spiritual and mental emancipation of the lead character, “Cathy Whitaker,” is key to understanding the artistic achievement that director Todd Haynes (in his film) and authors Scott Frankel, Michael Korie and Richard Greenberg (in their musical adaptation) have accomplished.

This is a musical that is engendering passionate responses from audiences and compelling conversation from the critics, eliciting personal recollections from a very complicated era in our country’s history and, more importantly, is making us all very proud that we have come so far to where we are today – and reminding us how far we have yet to go.

One critic ironically said she preferred Porchight's recent production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (a story clearly set in the repressive climate of late-1950s hetrosexual office politics and which is presented as a cartoony musical comedy lampoon) over Far From Heaven (another exploration of late-1950s repression, this of race and homosexuality, structured as a chamber musical.) The preference recalls the legendary face-off of the future of the American musical with La Cage aux Follies vs Sunday in the Park with George at the 1984 Tony Awards - the comfortably classic toe-tapping audience pleaser up against the ground-breaking, musically sophisticated artistic triumph.

Read the critical responses, enjoy the degree of raised voices in the conversation that this new musical is inspiring but, MOST IMPORTANTLY, see Far From Heaven for yourself (our limited run ends March 13) and then let your voice be heard by adding to the conversation.

I’ll see you at the theatre –

Michael Weber

Artistic Director     

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