Leonard Bernstein’s one-act gem of an opera “Trouble in Tahiti” is so rarely revived that its simply being done will generate interest, and it would be great to report that Next Theatre’s revival is up to the task, but alas, while the principals are able to traverse the satiric “battle of the sexes” in 1950s suburbia dramatic aspects of the work, this is a piece that needs, well, pipes to make it work. Gorgeous arias such as “There is a Garden” need clear tone, clarion sound and flexible vocal technique, not erratic tremolo that camouflages pitch. The work is a mere forty-five minutes long, so what to present alongside of it that can stand up to it has always been an issue. The Next Theatre idea is to show how musical theater has “evolved” since by presenting “world premiere” performances of new songs in the second half by five different composers. The problem is that the songs themselves are presented out of context—are these works from would-be musical theater pieces, song cycles or stand-alones?—and are given mostly over-the-top readings by folks who in some cases, can barely carry a tune, let alone actually sing this stuff. Not that there is much to sing here, as these are mostly lyric-centered novelty pieces and sophomoric songs. Michael Mahler’s “The Rise and Fall of Britney Spears,” for instance, rhymes lines such as “the cops will be at the back door” with “No one want to see your kid raised by a crack whore.” Yikes. And one cardinal rule of satire is that the satirers have to have more talent and wit than the satiree to be effective. The finale, Joshua Schmidt’s bluesy Kander and Ebb-influenced power ballad “The Little American Dream,” at least exhibits some melody, even if it pales alongside of a melodic master such as Leonard Bernstein. Granted, what wouldn’t, but why set up such an inevitable comparison? (Dennis Polkow)
At Next Theatre, 927 Noyes, Evanston, (847)475-1875. This production is now closed.