(Review by Tulis McCall)
This is another in the line up of ill-advised plays “based on a true story,” but it is easy to see why the authors were tempted. In 1940-41 George Davis (Julian Fleisher) found a chair that made his imagination take flight. It inspired him to take the lease on a house at 7 Middagh Street (now replaced by the BQE) and to surround said chair with, among others, the likes of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullullers (Kristen Sieh), Benjamin Britten (Stanley Bahorek) and Gypsy Rose Lee (Kacie Sheik). Davis wanted a tribe of his own, and he got it. Anais Nin christened it February House because of all the February birthdays its inhabitants shared. One can only imagine what the kitchen table conversation was. And after seeing this show one can still only imagine.
It is difficult to write about a true event. There is always the urge to tell the truth. And the truth can be deadly boring, which is why we invented story telling. Stories have a purpose which life often lacks. They have a sense of direction, which life often lacks as well. Stories are what life is not – condensed. In an hour or so we can move through a lifetime or even several lifetimes. February House has none of that. In this case the authors took a year and made it seem like a century.
Nothing really happens at 7 Middagh Street. Britten and Auden collaborate on an opera that fails, and Gypsy Rose Lee writes her novel The G-String Murders, which succeeds as does her next career move with Mike Todd. Carson McCullers struggles with a follow up novel after The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. Davis throws one of the first rent parties in New York. There are bed-bugs featured in one of the more engaging songs of the show, but it seems an odd choice considering the serious infestation New Yorkers have recently experienced. And of course there is World War II. London is being bombed and Auden, Britten and Britten’s partner Peter Pears (Ken Barnett) must look in the mirror and see a man who is not where most people think he should be – at the home front. And way off in the distance we can see Pearl Harbor coming our way. But all of this is circumstance – none of it is action that pulls the story forward.
In between all the nothing happening there are musical numbers that you can’t really call songs because they lack a melody. Atonal I guess you would call it, and these actors give it all they have. This may be the true pleasure of the evening – watching most of these people perform. Sieh and Lochtefeld in particular lead the way with very fine interpretations of McCullers and Auden. These two people stay with you when you leave the theatre.
But overall, this is a tepid piece at best that does little to showcase the talent onstage. The chair that inspires February House to come into existence has its own scene and song and is never heard from again. The characters, about whom we should care, come off, for the most part, as people in whom we are interested but about whom we are not concerned. I can get that by stepping out my front door. When I go to the theatre I want to be made to care.
I know that this piece was commissioned but did no one check in with the writers from time to time? In addition to the music being dull, this book is way over written beginning with the character descriptions GEORGE DAVIS, 34, a radiant, slightly overweight New York Personality and PETER PEARS, 30, Britten’s partner— a rather broad-shouldered British tenor. If something like that is on the first page, isn’t that a clue? I continually marvel at how scripts like this make it past the first desk. Where are our dramaturge’s hiding? Not at the Public. Not at Long Warf either.
So who’s running the show?
"It’s the music that makes the magic in February House."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"A well-meaning but wimpy and exceedingly precious new musical."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"The show feels bloodless.”
Frank Scheck for New York Post
Mark Peikert for Back Stage
"A sprawling, essentially undramatic subject."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"The musical seems shockingly trivial... Nothing profound and not even much fun, “February House” is mostly an empty place."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"Don't nearly add up to a satisfying evening."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...