I daresay if you didn’t know The Landing was composed by John Kander going in, you would never guess from its uncharacteristically mild, at times even tepid, art-house score, containing very little of his show-biz and song genre savvy and almost none of his distinctive imprimatur. As to the latter, imprimatur does, indeed, change when you take on a new collaborator—Rodgers with Hart sounds very different than Rodgers with Hammerstein—but it seems from this, his first effort free of remaining Fred Ebb material (complete or completed by others) since Ebb’s death, that new collaborator, lyricist-librettist Greg Pierce, isn’t doing him any artistic favors—so far.
Though the credits say “story by” Pierce and Kander, The Landing is actually comprised of three separate stories, having in common only that each is narrated (three of the four cast members switch off from story to story in that capacity, with no other apparent thematic connection). The stories themselves put one in mind of the kind of 1950s style short story one might find in a rarefied literary magazine or sometimes The New Yorker, a tiny character studies in which characters go through internal changes without much in the way of plot to fuel them, just triggering events. With occasional supernatural brushstrokes strokes such as might be found in tales of the era by John Collier.
The first story is about the growing friendship—platonic, I hasten to add, as these days you must—between a young boy (Frankie Seratch) and the handyman (Paul Anthony Stewart) doing repairs for his Mom (Julia Murney) around the house; and the thing that ends the friendship. We have no idea who the narrator (David Hype Pierce) is, but I’d bet it’s tacitly the boy, decades later, looking back.)
The second story is about another young boy (Seratch) whose aunt orders (Murney) an actual brick from the wall of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (at the urging of a home shopping network pitch); and because the brick is both personified (Pierce) and tainted with gangland death, falls under its roaring 20s pinstripe spell, much to the consternation of the boy and his uncle (Stewart), who try to intervene before it’s too late (it’s all far less fun than it sounds, I promise).
The third and last story is about a middle-aged gay couple (Pierce and Stewart) who adopt a young teenage boy (Seratch) who seems (according to narrator Murney as sister of Pierce) to be the perfect son. But he too is far from what he appears to be. This last story is the most interesting, but also the most derivative, its reveal approximating several Twilight Zone episodes (particularly Nothing in the Dark).
There are a few sweet musical moments and amusing turns, Pierce-the-coauthor evincing a decent grasp of lyric craft, always a plus; and the actors throw themselves into the task with whatever gusto the mild material allows, under the appropriately low key direction of the usually-more-showy Walter Bobbie…but in the end this isn’t even a work of musical theatre such as an exercise in musical theatre devices and technique.
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