Brett Ryback, left, Rebecca Ann Johnson and Ben D. Goldberg in "Falling… (Michael Lamont )
Though the late Lorenz Hart stands near-peerless among Broadway lyricists, his tortured private life remains largely untilled. That is, until “Falling for Make Believe” at the Colony Theatre, wherein a grand cast and 21 classic songs propel Mark Saltzman’s musical study of Hart and his struggles with composer Richard Rodgers, the bottle and the closet.
Flashing back to 1927 from Hart’s 1943 funeral service, Saltzman’s slightly overstuffed book gets the facts in while cleverly imagining undocumented occurrences. Inventing a gay Pennsylvania transplant (sensitive, dulcet-voiced Tyler Milliron) as pivotal figure, Saltzman illuminates the self-loathing Hart (Ben D. Goldberg, marvelously invested, if too handsome by half), pulling vintage items from his output with Rodgers (ever-stalwart Brett Ryback) into commentary.
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With director Jim Fall exercising optimal creativity, designer Jeff McLaughlin provides a smartly Deco-inflected unit set, against which Sohail e. Najafi’s lush lighting, Dianne K. Graebner’s suave costumes and Drew Dalzell’s discreet sound register beautifully. It’s ultimately the numbers, overseen by musical director Keith Harrison and choreographer Lisa Hopkins, that drive Saltzman’s affecting narrative, sold by the accomplished ensemble.
Besides the aforementioned actors, Megan Moran has a field day in multiple roles and Jeffrey Landman, as Hart’s procurer Milton “Doc” Bender, carries more interior layers than are written. And Rebecca Ann Johnson is superbly effervescent as ingénue-turned-sophisticate Vivian Ross, though one wonders what prohibited identifying her as Vivienne Segal.
To move beyond this elegant chamber staging, that and other clashes between form and content -- both subject and concept may merit two-act expansion -- will have to be addressed. That’s best left to archivists, quibblers and future producers, because audiences should be bewitched.
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“Falling for Make Believe,” Colony Theatre, 555 N. 3rd St., Burbank. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 19. $20-$42. (818) 558-7000 or www.colonytheatre.org. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
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