This may not the Michael John Lachiusa’s ‘best’ score, but it is unquestionably the most accessible and enjoyable thing he ever wrote. Idina Menzel played the lead in this show, and her presence probably got a lot of people unfamiliar with Lachiusa’s work to listen to it, but almost none of the negative things I’ve said about Lachiusa’s work in the past really apply here.
The idea for the show was frankly brilliant…two one-acts based on the famous Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa, both dealing with the subjective nature of truth. Both one-acts are far more accessible than anything Lachiusa had done in years. The first, based on a modernized version of the famous Rashomon, features some of the most genuinely catchy music Lachiusa has ever written in one place. The standout numbers go to Menzel, of course…the jazzy title-song, the heartbreaking “Louie”, and the scathing tirade “No More”.
The second act is in a classical-influenced vein closer to Lachiusa’s normal style, and, apart from the beautiful “There Will Be a Miracle”, less accessible musically, but it does feature an emotional pull and dramatic simplicity and primality that nothing else in Lachiusa’s oeuvre even approaches. It tells the story of a disillusioned priest who spreads a rumor of an impending miracle in Central Park. The news draws a vast crowd of emotionally desperate modern-day disciples, and, in the words of the main character, “I told a lie, and the lie became the truth. The lie was for everyone, but the truth was only for myself.”
Only once in the show does Lachiusa’s trademark “Theater should hurt” philosophy rear its head, in the second act’s incredibly disturbing “Coffee”, which bears a certain resemblance to “Song of a Child Prostitute” from Swados’ Runaways. Granted, the ‘Kesa and Morito’ bits that frame the action are mostly just embarrassing, but even they seem fairly tame compared to Lachiusa’s other show that season, the grisly Bernarda Alba.
Given that this show came out in one of Broadway’s worst seasons, it actually stands head and shoulders above virtually all of its peers. In fact, it’s probably the best original score of the season, given that the best shows that year were a jukebox musical (Jersey Boys) and an off-Broadway song cycle consisting mostly of recycled material (It’s Only Life). And compared with most of Lachiusa’s output, its straightforward enjoyment value and emotional appeal seem almost revelatory.