From Russia With Love (and Songs and Guns) - Doctor Zhivago

From Russia With Love (and Songs and Guns) - Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago, based on the 1957 novel by Boris Pasternak, first premiered in 2006 at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego and then toured/played various venues in Australia in 2011. This musical about a doctor/poet named Yurii Zhivago (Tam Mutu) and his love affair with volunteer nurse Lara Guishar (Kelli Barrett) has fought its way back to the American stage to take audiences to a time of political corruption and stolen moments of tenderness among the horrors of war-torn Russia. Like Romeo and Juliet, the show starts by revealing its end and, while tragic, Doctor Zhivago celebrates love among widespread unrest.

The music of Doctor Zhivago was gorgeous. The opening ensemble song, “Two Worlds,” brilliantly set up the recurring theme of dualism and prepared the audience for heated conflicts between political parties and lovers. We knew a spectacularly happy ending was definitely not in the cards, so we grabbed onto the moments that mad us feel something wonderful, even though said moments were fleeting. My favorite song was Zhivago’s passionate solo, “Yurii’s Decision.” Mutu is a captivating leading man and I could listen to him sing all day long. I found Zhivago’s sensitive side appealing and liked that he used poetry as an outlet for self-expression, though I cannot champion an adulterer. (Because cheating on your wife with the wife of a crazy militant during the Russian Revolution is not the smartest move, sir.)

The epic romance was supposed to be the main focus, but I was most drawn to the production design. Doctor Zhivago’s set was raked and lengthy, allowing layers of action to take place on stage at once. The space gave the show’s large ensemble room to celebrate a wedding, partake in traditional Russian dancing and engage in terrifying acts of war.

I loved the use of overturned chairs as various barricades throughout the show. One lonely chair is heartbreaking enough, given the context, but dozens of chairs woven together to form a wall that you can see through but can’t breach represents lives of people who are no longer there. Perhaps those were the chairs of people who fled in time. Perhaps they were all that was left of those who did not. This musical did not shy away from violence and depicted some shockingly graphic moments of harm (self-inflicted or otherwise) and loud explosions and gunfire. I did not read the book, so there were a couple of times I was caught off guard by some of the war scenes and their aftermath.
I saw Doctor Zhivago on its fifth night of previews and there is something truly special about seeing a brand new Broadway production while its cast and crew are still ironing out logistics of the show. Bits of dialogue and songs can change or blocking might be different than a prior performance. The show is still an evolving thing, with everyone working together to make it the best show it can be. I applaud everyone involved for bringing this iconic story to the New York stage.

Doctor Zhivago, now showing at the Broadway Theatre, officially opens on April 21, 2015.

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