Review of Sincerely, Oscar at Theatre Row

  • Our critic's rating:
    April 5, 2019
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    If you are looking to bask in the work of Oscar Hammerstein II, a legend of American musical theater, Sincerely, Oscar, conceived, written and performed by Doreen Taylor, is not your show. From the first note, this show charts a course from indignity to embarrassment in tasteless arrangements and incomprehensible direction. “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” as a jazzy uptempo? “People Will Say We’re in Love” as a bossa nova?

    The prologue establishes a framework of dreams as a running theme through Hammerstein’s oevre. With touching idealism, Hammerstein firmly believed in an optimistic future for our world, seeking to spread that optimism through his work - out of his dreams and into our hearts, as it were. Unfortunately, instead of paying homage to this depth, Sincerely, Oscar manages to trivialize Hammerstein’s brilliance. 

    The only relief are the spectacular visuals. David Pedemonti’s lighting brings color to the stage, but it is Brittany Merenda’s projections that add dimension and visual texture. As stars and mountains, abstract patterns and words play across a series of screens strung haphazardly across the proscenium, the imagery says what the ghastly musical arrangements cannot. At one point, letters, the tools of Hammerstein’s trade, hover and flit across the screens and through the air in a holographic whirlwind, eventually resolving themselves into a calligraphic snow globe. It’s an arresting image, and the moment that most clearly illuminates the poet Hammerstein truly was.

    The use of holography to bring Oscar Hammerstein himself to life onstage at Theatre Row is also quite something. Speaking text from unpublished letters and other primary sources, a nameless actor becomes a third onstage player, despite appearing and disappearing in a wisp of air.

    As to Doreen Taylor, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a performer so lacking in stage presence. It’s not just that she moves clumsily and doesn’t know what to do with her hands and face. It’s that no matter how loudly she sings and flails her arms Vegas style – and she gets progressively louder and Vegas-ier as the night goes on – she leaves no impression at all.

    Azudi Onyejekwe has more oomph. He does a good job with "Ol’ Man River," but he begins to torture the music, perhaps in an attempt to make up for Taylor’s lackluster energy. He also has some pitch issues, to the extent that I began to wonder if he could hear the orchestra. It’s not clear whether the music is canned or live, but there is a disconnect there somewhere.

    Among the other oddities in this production is the use of annoying headset microphones. Dawna Oak’s costumes also miss the mark. Onyejekwe’s white suit does not offend, but Taylor’s dowdy white dress and flat sneakers do. Thank goodness they take Taylor’s hair down partway through the show. It takes 10 years off.

    The final indignity lies in the weird curtain call where Taylor pats Onyejekwe on the back like a good child, gestures to him to stand upstage right and watch her rapturously while she starts yet another song, and then waves him off, never to return. Where did he go? Does he have to catch a train? Is he going to come back? Is she ever going to stop singing?

    Sincerely, Oscar is sincerely awful. A combination of consistently appalling musical choices and dull performances makes this a show an hour and a half of counting the minutes until the lights come up again.

    (Photo by Derek Brad)

    "To the swelling taxonomy of jukebox musicals, we must now add a new genus: the high-tech nitwit vanity bio-revue. Its distinguishing features included a hazy provenance; an obsequious, uninformative text; a lazily organized catalog of songs; and an unaccountable focus on an unknown performer. Also: holograms."
    Jesse Green for New York Times