Passion stars Heather Orth at Custom Made Theatre

John Melis and Heather Orth in PASSION at Custom Made Theatre until July 27, 2019

PASSION: Musical. Lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim, Book by James Lapine, Directed by Stuart Bousel. Music Direction by Brian Allan Hobbs. Custom Made Theatre Company, Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter St. (at Powell) in San Francisco, CA. (415) 798-2682 or www.custommade.org.

June 20 –July 27, 2019

Passion stars Heather Orth at Custom Made Theatre. Rating: ★★★★☆

Stephen Sondheim had an epiphany when he watched the Film Passione d’Amore by Ettore Scola and knew he would write a musical version. “I realized that the story was not about how she is going to fall in love with him, but about how he is going to fall in love with her.” The “her” was Fosca a sickly unattractive woman with depressive tendencies after she had been humiliated by a disastrous marriage and left penniless. Sondheim brought aboard James Lapine who had collaborated with him on Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods and the result was Passion. It opened in 1994 and had a short run of 280 performances even though it had received critical acclaim winning the Tony for Best Musical.

Audiences may have been reluctant to attend since it is a very dark story dealing with “ love, sex, obsession, illness, passion, beauty, power and manipulation.” There have been multiple revisions since 1994 and there is no note of which is being used by Custom Made nor is there a “song list.”.

The time is the mid-19th century and an Italian Army Captain Giorgio (John Melis) is shipped to a remote outpost thus separating him from his beautiful but married mistress Clara (Juliana Lustenader). They represent “beautiful, passionate love” and happily welter in it.  At the remote outpost he is encouraged by the company Doctor Tambourri (Jake Gleason) to see Fosca in an attempt to free her from her depression. While it is understandable that Fosca would fall obsessively in love Giorgio, creating plausible actions that would lead Giorgio to return that affection became Sondheim and Lapine’s challenge. They masterfully navigate that almost impossible terrain that is the heart of the story.

The three major actors carry the show that is not fully satisfying due to reasons to be discussed later. John Melias is perfect for the role of Georgio. His physical attractiveness is a great adjuvant to his melodious, expressive baritone voice. He is equally matched by local favorite soprano Juliana Lustenader who brings radiance to the stage on her entrances using her gorgeous voice to match Melis. 

Heather Orth is amazing as Fosca.  Her great clear singing voice and acting ability creates an unforgettable character.

The uncluttered nondescript gray set emphasizes the dark atmosphere of Passion and gives director Stuart’s cast ample space to interact and allow movement of the minimal furniture between scenes creating fluidity.  

The decision to have the trio of musicians that includes piano (Brian Allen Hobbs), woodwinds (Sheldon Brown) and cello (Ami Nashimoto) on stage is a mistake. They are distraction and sometimes overwhelm the vocals.

As a brief summary: It is not Stephan Sondheim and James Lapine at their best but Custom Made has gathered an admirable cast and creative team that will keep your attention for the 80 minutes without intermission.

Passion cast in dinner scene.

CAST: Mistress, Amy Alvino; Torasso, Roy Eikleberry; Doctor Tambourri, Jake Gleason; LodovIc, Augenti,  Zaya Kolia; Lombardi, Father, Carl Lucania; Clara, Juliana Lustenader; Giorgio, John Melis;  Fosca,  Heather Orth; Mother,  Kelly Rubinsohn; Rizzoli,  Max Seijas; Colonel Ricci,  Domonic Tracy; Barri, Micah Watterson.

Creative Staff: Director, Stuart Bousel; Music Director, Brian Allan Hobbs, Scenic Designer, Bernadette Flynn; Costume Designer, Kathleen Qui; Lighting Designer, Tina Johnson; Sound Designer, Anton Hedman; Properties Designer, Tom O’Brien; Stage Manage, Emma Gifford; Sound Board Operator, Larry Tase; Intimacy Choreographer, Natalie Green; Assistant Costume Designer, Candice Lo.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.