The team of lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty have, in their relatively short career, created some of the theater's most imaginative work: Once on This Island, Seussical -- The Musical and Lucky Stiff each offer an extraordinary amount of entertainment. And of course they're responsible for the mammoth hit Ragtime, which boasts -- and this is no exaggeration -- the most electrifying opening number in all of musical theater.
So the world premiere of their latest, The Glorious Ones, should be an occasion of intense excitement. Toss in the talent of world-famous director/choreographer Graciela Daniele and, really, how could you miss?
Indeed, how could you miss? To tell you the truth, I don't know. But, unfortunately, miss they have with this surprisingly bloodless and uninvolving production at the Pittsburgh Public Theater.
Adapted from a 1974 novel by Francine Prose, The Glorious Ones is the story of a commedia dell'arte troupe trying to make its fortune in 17th-century Italy. The larger theme, I'm supposing, is that of the artist and his/her striving for immortality through art. Or maybe it's about how, no matter the century, actors are egotistical hams who are never happy unless everybody's talking about them.
The show runs approximately 90 minutes without intermission, and all you really need to know is that everybody in it is quirky and perky, and that on the way to the heartwarming ending there are life-lessons galore.
That Ahrens and Flaherty are superlative artists is not even a question, but here they seem to have pulled their punches. The funky charm of Seussical and Lucky Stiff is absent, and the power of something like Ragtime is a complete no-show. The script, little more than an afterthought, mostly manifests in a few lines of exposition serving to set up the next number (of which there are 22 ... in a 90-minute show.)
An heroic cast, Daniele's felicitous direction and gorgeous orchestrations by Michael Starobin assure that the evening is never without value. But considering what you go in expecting from an Ahrens/Flaherty musical, what you get out of this one is considerably less.
The Glorious Ones continues through May 20. Pittsburgh Public Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-316-8200 or www.ppt.org