Part historical odyssey, part musical, Musical Pawns centers on the career work of Russian composer David Nowakowsky, a brilliant contemporary of Tchaikovsky and Wagner, whose works have been lost for nearly 100 years. Guarding his unpublished manuscripts for decades were his Grandson and then Great-Grandson, and the play also follows their life as Jews in war-torn Nazi Germany. When their lives were suddenly always on the line, it was difficult to protect themselves, much less protect these 2,500 + works of a musical master.
The production as a play itself is difficult to follow. Much of this is due to the fact that the narration and scenes switch back and forth between past and present – and variations in time on the past. Combine this jumpy timeline with the case of actors playing several different roles and the result is unnecessarily complicated. The choppy time-line is further marred by a schtick – beginning with very verklempt generalized depictions of Jewish yentas, lawyers, and even the great-grandson of Nowakowsky (played albeit with feeling by Emanuelle Zeesman). I was confused by much of it, and I usually can figure these things out pretty quickly.
During some of these interludes, the only solace I found was in the voices of the actors on stage, which were absolutely incredible. I was honestly blown away by the vocal talent of the performers. Mostly a cappella, they brought a beauty and honesty to the works which the play was based on, that made me care – whereas I might not have before. One particular section in which I was truly taken away on a journey was during a scene when Nowakowsky’s grandson (Sean Hauk) and his wife (Meredith Zwicker) had a dance piece as they said goodbye for an unknown period of time to wait out the dangers of the war. It was moving and I wished that there were more moments such as that in the entire production.
There are many gems such as that scattered throughout the production that highlight the talents of the cast, and if they would focus more on using these as a method of storytelling, you would have more lovely music and dance, and less schtick and confusion … and maybe a better way to marry fact and fiction in a creative process.
~~~Musical Pawns Company: Lost Music Productions Directed by: Lindi G. Papoff Mar 02, 8:30PM Mar 04, 2:30PM $16.00 The Kraine Theater