News of a new John Kander project would prick up the ears of any musical theater fan. The composer's been a big name on Broadway for half a century. He garnered three Tony awards for Cabaret, Woman of the Year and Kiss of the Spiderwoman (but, criminally, not for Chicago)—and wrote that knockoff ditty you've probably heard, "New York, New York"—while penning 22 musicals with lyricist Fred Ebb.
The Landing, whose premiere ran one month off-Broadway last season, marked Kander's first new project in the decade since Ebb's death in 2004. Now in his 80s, Kander collaborated for the first time with lyricist and playwright Greg Pierce. The pair started small with this chamber musical: three brief one-acts for four actors and a small band that, in the creators' words, "you could do in your living room."
Magic has touched similar projects before. The region has seen Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World and The Last Five Years and Jonathan Larson's Tick, Tick...Boom!, all works with four or fewer actors on stage.
But the charms of this mostly workmanlike script and score are slender indeed. And they aren't always sold by the quartet that director Paul Frellick has assembled in this Deep Dish production. I don't like to ding a child actor, but young Neil Bullard was out of his depth last weekend in his attempts at playing a troubled young math whiz in the opening one-act, Andra. But could actors with more seasoning than Bullard and the irascible John Allore have sold the embarrassing, schmaltzy show tune relating the mythical tale of Andromeda?
Erin Tito's song, "Look Up," is compelling later in this act, in a tale of a child given the stars—and a more complicated view of adults—by an itinerant handyman.
The trio does better, and Mark Ridenour (abetted by costumer Deb Cox) snarls his way through The Brick, a briefly amusing but flimsy Twilight Zone burlesque on film noir.
The closest this evening comes to a successful play from the heart is in the concluding title work. Kander and Pierce's central number, "There's a Big Boat," advises gay parents Denny (Allore) and Jake (a moving Ridenour) that they ultimately can't fight fate. Even here, though, there's the nagging sense that the song can't begin to do the heavy lifting the scene is asking of it.
That's rarely been the case in the long career of Broadway powerhouse John Kander. Unfortunately, it happens repeatedly in The Landing.
This article appeared in print with the headline "SHAKY LANDING"