The world premiere of the new musical "February House" marks the first result of the Public Theater's musical theater initiative. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following report.
It's clear that a lot of heart and soul went into the creation of "February House." The new musical is based on actual events involving some very recognizable names such as Carson McCullers and Gypsy Rose Lee. While there's much to admire in the work, there is perhaps too much of a good thing, as "February House" ultimately collapses under the weight of its lofty ambitions.
The year is 1940. America is on the brink of war and a literary editor named George Davis decides to rent a house in Brooklyn to be shared with his artsy friends. Besides author Carson McCullers and famed stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, there's poet W.H. Auden and composer Benjamin Britten with their partners and Erika Mann, the daughter of German novelist Thomas Mann.
Davis envisioned a kind of bohemian retreat where intellectuals were free to express themselves artistically and sexually without constraint. As social experiment, it's fascinating. As a musical, its lack of structure and cohesion is a problem.
The story tends to ramble and the songs — 19 in all — do little to propel the plot, though Gabriel Kahane's score is sprightly and melodic with Sondheim-worthy lyrics.
Seth Bockley's book is best coloring in the outlines of these wildly eccentric characters, most of whom happened to be born in the month of February, hence the title. But it's much too long and it could have ended at least three times before final curtain.
The cast is exceptional and it's to their credit that they manage to hold our interest far longer than the storytelling deserved. Davis McCallum's direction could be tighter but the production does nicely evoke time and place.
"February House" is the kind of show that should make audiences feel comfortably settled in. Instead, by the end, we're left squirming in our seats.