Writer VARIETY Rasputin Review
Wednesday, September 2, 1987


Harry Vogelsanger presentation of a musical in two acts, wilh music, story and design by David Tydd, lyrics and dialog by David Lucas, produccd by Tydd and Pat Shaw, directed ond designed by Stephen Hopkins. Musical director, Mike Wade; lighting, Peta Rooney; costumes. Maria Fowler; sound, Jands Concert Prods; choreographer, Pamela French; production director, Keith Percival; production supervisor, Don Spencer. Opened Aug. 22, '87 st the State Theater, Sydney; $A35.70 top.
Grigorii Rasputin.................Jon English
Tsar Nicholas II..............Robbic Krupski
Tsarina Alexandra.............Karyn O'Neill
Prince Felix Yussopov............Terry Serio
Tsarevitch Akxis...............Nigel Travers
Princess Tatiana ..............Simone Hardy
Princess Anastasia......Danielle Spencer
Lenin...........................Angry Anderson
Stalin..............................Darell Hopson
Russian Holy Man/
Civil Servant......................Andrew Doyle
Russian Holy Man/Doctor.....Warren Jones
Russian Holy Man/Spy ..........Seon Blake
Spies....Jo-Anne Cahill, Jonothon Rosten,
Anthony Wong
General...............................Darren Holt
Cabinet Minister ...................Dein Perry
Nurse......................Raquel Suarstzman
Butler.............................Glenn Dumbrell
With: Drew Anthony, Helen Anton, Aaron James Cash, Stephen Clarke, Michelle Curtis, Ramon Doringo, Meaghan Frances, Joanna Hicks, Vesna Hindley-Noble, Yvonne Hopson, Renee Isaacs, Caroline Kaspar, Manny Katts, Elizabeth Mavric, Kathryn Morrison, Delia Robins, Lisa Schembri. Tiaho Selwyn, Caryn Shipp, Lisa Wright.
Musical numbers: "Purification From Sin," "Heaven Or Hell," "God's Doctor On Call," "Take A Photo," "I Don't Believe," "Brave New Way," "Thankyou God," "Prince And Peasant," "Pomp And Circumstance," "Romanoff Ice Cream," "Chosen One," "Tutti," "An Eye For An Eye," "Secrets," "Power," "Possesed," "Heroes And Villains," "The World Is At War," "Turn Off The Nightmare," "Short On Bullets," "Tsar Too Far Away," "Chiaruscuro," "Party Of The Century."

Sydney — "Rasputin" calls itself "the musical revolution." Revolutionary it's not; most of its elements are steeped in convention, particularly its mediocre score and libretto. Premiere production is a rollercoaster ride, with highs that rate it with the best theater this town has seen, and lows to make one cringe.

Its genesis has been fraught with trauma and controversy, probably because of the theatrical inexperience of many key personnel, including the producers and director. Accordingly, first nighters had preconceived notions of what to expect, and the forecast was dim. It is a credit to all involved in "Rasputin" that audience reaction was favorable and while modifications are definitely needed, the production deserves applause and support.

The material is certainly the stuff the best musicals are made of, with characters rich in potential: the enigmatic Russian peasant monk Rasputin, whose philosophy was that to achieve salvation one should sin excessively first, and whose strange mystical healing powers had shades of the Jesus factor; the weak and powerless Tsar and Tsarina. hypnotized and manipulated by the monk; Prince Felix, Rasputin's protagonist, controller of the secret police and wealthiest man in the world; and Lenin, mesmerizing the masses in the streets.

Translated on the stage with mixed results, the events are presented if not accurately, then at least graphically, with the magic of the period well encapsulated. The exposition is too long, however. The weakest link of all is the character of Rasputin, with no sense of his motivation or the source of his power or attraction.

Jon English's performance may be a casualty of the poor writing, but his lackluster portrayal is a disappointment. English is capable of better — his Rasputin lacks the power and passion of previous performances, and his singing is uninspired. He is, however. the only performer at ease with the dialog, where the humor inherent in Rasputin comes through, and he looks the part - his stature is immense, his eyes are haunting.

The show is well cast. Karyn O'Neill's Tsarina is delightful, her voice crystal clear. Robbie Krupski is too young for the Tsar, but compensates with exciting singing. Terry Serio's Felix has to deal with some of the tackiest scenes in the show — swashbuckling at nobles and indulging in Romanesque orgies — and his delivery of dialog is wooden. Angry Anderson's Lenin is terrific, despite an untrained rock and roll voice which sometimes misses the mark, and he evokes much sympathy. There's not enough of him.

The chorus scenes are spectacular, notably a juxtapositian of discontented masses singing "Romanoff Ice Cream" while the imperial Romanov family plays indulgently and, best of all, a breathtaking World War I battle scene. Full credlt to choreographer Pamela French for giving these scenes world-class treatment.

They're countered, however, by awful interludes of dialog, nonsensical characters like the three "holy men," and scenes which are interesting in isolation, such as the Tsarina's nightmare complete with video screen backdrop depicting dripping blood, but add nothing to the show's movement.

The music is neither awful nor brilliant, while the lyrics are quite banal. Several credits for "additional" music and lyrics indicate the chaotic assembly of the show and there is no tangible book to refer to. Changes have been promised, and the show could sound very different in a month.

Technically, apart from first night hitches like microphone failures, show is supreme. Music is clear due to Mike Wade's computerized arrangements via the Kurzweil Music System. Lighting is state-of-the-art brilliance, sets are striking, and costumes appropriately classy. Stephen Hopkins has directed "Rasputin" almost like a video clip, and when it works it's outstanding theater; when it fails it's abysmal.

Predicting the future of this $A3,000.000 extravaganza is difficult. Initial interest should be strong, but its ability to stand the competition of the likes of "Les Miserables" will depend primarily on extensive cutting and fine tuning, and Sydney's willingness to give it a chance. If it can jump over the initial hurdle and settle in for a run, "Rasputin" could match the success of other big musicals in Sydney, and perhaps one day move beyond Aussie borders. — Krug.

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