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Somewhere in Time - The Musical

SIT MusicalAlthough several films blanc have been adapted from the stage (e.g. Blithe Spirit, Damn Yankees,To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, Heaven Can Wait, Goodbye Charlie, Prelude to a Kiss), comparatively few of them have accomplished the opposite by inspiring a live stage version. An example of this would be Beauty and the Beast.

In May, 2013, Somewhere in Time - The Musical premiered at the Portland Center Stage in Portland, Oregon, for a five week run. The show was created and written by Ken Davenport, an enterprising and successful Broadway writer, producer and director. In the program notes, he explained his inspiration for the project:

"About twelve years ago, I was walking through a video store (remember those?) with my girlfriend looking for something to watch for our usual 'date night.' I walked down the aisle and an old beat-up VHS box caught my attention. It was the film version of Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. I picked it up, read the romantic description, turned to my girlfriend and said, 'Do you think it would make a good musical?'

She practically melted right there in the store. We rented it, and well ... we had a pretty fantastic date night.

The very next day, I approached Richard Matheson, the celebrated author of the novel and the movie ... to ask for the rights to turn the story into a musical.

Five years later ... he gave them to me."

Ken's story parallels that of Stephen Simon, who had approached Richard Matheson many years before with the same passion, to produce the film.

I attended the Opening Night performance on Friday, May 31. The Portland Center Stage is housed in the Gerding Theater at the Armory, a cavernous structure in the Pearl District of downtown Portland. It includes a 599-seat main stage theater where Somewhere in Time was staged, as well as a 200 seat black box theater.

I can tell you that the show was enthusiastically received by the full house who gave it an extended standing ovation at the end.

Although the story follows the film quite closely, there are several elements integrated from Matheson's novel, originally titled Bid Time Return. This includes a character, Robert Collier, Richard's brother. In fact, the printed program has an insert letter from Robert Collier, explaining why he has "allowed his brother's most private thoughts to be put into the 'public spotlight.'" Also in the show is the gypsy woman who had warned Elise McKenna about Collier coming into her life.

Ken Davenport has added many fascinating twists and new takes on the original story, which he reviewed with Richard Matheson. For example, the librarian, a very minor role in the film (played by Noreen Walker) becomes a comic character, smitten with the handsome Collier, who is too engrossed in his Elise McKenna research to notice her. The character of Laura Roberts (played in the film by Teresa Wright) is given added significance, and a charming relationship between her and both the young and old Arthur is portrayed.

Directed by Scott Schwartz, a real strength of the adaptation is in its handling of the concept of time travel, both to and from the past. In the film, the transition to 1912 was presented with a subtle change in lighting and film stock; in the play it occurs with a blinding flash of stage lighting. While in the movie, Collier is firmly planted in 1912 until he unwittingly discovers the 1979 penny, there is an ongoing tension in the play, with Collier desperately trying to maintain his presence in the past. A clever stage device to reinforce this was the set slowly beginning to change, hesitating, and then settling back to the 1912 look. Some genuine stage magic is involved where Collier's character is seen in both the present and the past, simultaneously.

The Grand Hotel, like in the film, is a prominent "character". (The novel placed the action at San Diego's Del Coronado Hotel.)

Regarding the ending of the story, it is very possible that the stage version tops the film original in emotional impact. It is truly inspired and, frankly, I still get goose bumps recalling it.

The performances are uniformly excellent. Andrew Samonsky is terrific as Richard Collier, bringing a great singing voice as well as a more humorous outlook than the Reeve portrayal, as he reacts to the anachronisms of 1912. As in the film, the casting of the Elise McKenna character is critical; she requires an ethereal beauty and presence to help explain Collier's obsession to reach her. Hannah Elless wonderfully brings those qualities to the role, and she sings beautifully (and bears more than a passing resemblance to the young Jane Seymour). The character of Robinson is written as more sinister and despicable than in the movie as played by Christopher Plummer; Marc Kurdisch is an imposing presence in this role. Bill Erwin's Arthur would be hard to top, but David Cryer brings his own special charms to the character. Eight-year old Brady James makes an adorable Young Arthur. Laura Roberts is nicely played by Sharonlee McLean, and her 1912 self (not seen in the film) is acted effectively by Erin Burniston.

And what of the music? There are some wonderful songs (music and orchestrations by Doug Katsaros and lyrics by Amanda Yesnowitz), notably "Elise" sung by Richard, "The Grand Hotel" by Arthur, "Something My Heart Never Felt Before" by Elise, Richard and Robinson, and "A Trip to the Grand" by the ensemble company. I was also taken with "Somewhere in Time" sung by a band singer, and "Shopworn Serenade" by a trio in three part harmony.

I'm certainly not a music critic, but speaking as a lover of the musical stage (starting in 1959 with My Fair Lady), I can't help but feel that the show could benefit from a strong signature tune or even a "showstopper". Cats had its "Memories", Les Misérables has "I Dreamed a Dream", Bye, Bye Birdie and "Put On a Happy Face", Jesus Christ Superstar and "I Don't Know How to Love Him", and so on. This is not to take away from the show's marvelous compositions by Mr. Katsaros and Ms. Yesnowitz. (Upon reading this, Ken Davenport will almost certainly call in Doug and Amanda to say, "OK guys, now write me something that's guaranteed to become an American standard.")

Other production elements, scenic design, costumes, lighting, sound, and choreography are all top notch.

For years, Richard Matheson has enthusiastically speculated about the possibility of a stage musical version of his beloved creation. Unfortunately, health issues have prevented him from traveling to Portland, at least to date. However, producer Stephen Simon, who, fortuitously, lives in Portland, will attend a couple of the performances and conduct Q&A sessions with the audience.

Congratulations to Ken Davenport and his great team. It's my fondest wish that we'll soon have the opportunity to see Somewhere in Time - The Musical on the Great White Way.

Bill Shepard