‘Hello Again’ – Cabaret Style Musical Explores Disconnected Love (4 Stars)

Book, Lyrics & Music by Michael John LaChiusa; Directed by Michael Bello; Creative Team: Mindy Cimini (Music Director), Stephen Ursprung (Choreographer), Kathleen Doyle (Costumes), Anne Sherer (Scenic). Presented by Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, Boston through March 29th.

“Hello Again”, the fourth offering from first-year company Bridge Rep, is definitely not your typical musical, and that statement holds true on a number of fronts. For starters, it’s set in a really cool cabaret style venue and is definitely not a big-budget, glitzy production, although it does feature some high caliber performers. And while many of the most popular musicals of our time feature improbable love stories, the intimacy in “Hello Again” cuts right to the chase – it’s the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’m of musicals. The ten vignettes presented are not so much romantic sketches as they are largely emotionless hookups – unless you count fear and confusion as emotions. Which is not to say that it’s not frequently riveting and enjoyable (as long as you’re not uncomfortable with a little partial nudity and people simulating sex onstage).

Based on the 1897 play “La Ronde” by Arthur Schnitzler, each scene is set in a different decade of the 20th century, with one character from a finished scene moving into a new decade with a new partner. The young cast takes us through a series of “romantic” encounters, beginning with a young nervous soldier who encounters a street prostitute who for some reason, is giving it away for free. After some provocative bantering, the two retire to a well-lit side of the stage and copulate almost mechanically against a wall, (with the actor’s buttocks on display) in as unsexy a sex scene as you could imagine. He quickly finishes up, and can’t get away fast enough, but not before stealing her brooch. That opener is a prelude to most of the encounters – once the sex is over, at least one of the parties can’t wait to get the hell out of there. It’s kind of like male masturbation with one of the characters playing the role of a dirty sock. There’s rarely any foreplay and definitely no cuddling after. But that doesn’t mean that characters aren’t interesting pre-coitus – quite to the contrary. There’s a hilarious scene where a gay guy who fancies himself a film maker picks up a young buck (“my angel”) in a 70’s disco and completes his conquest while reciting stage directions to himself.

And there are some other compelling scenes as well, including a scene where a U.S. Senator and an actress are having an affair. It’s also one of the rare scenes in the show where there are actual loving emotions on display.

The set has a large bar in the left hand corner with an expansive dance floor which serves as the stage. On the walls hang a number of empty picture frames (from where the characters could possibly have emerged, but the empty frames could also be a metaphor for the sex as well). This show is billed as an “immersive” performance and you’re right in on the action with a half dozen cafe tables and seats around the perimeter of the stage, so characters could make entrances from behind you or get down to business on your table, which makes for a pretty different experience.

And although the songs aren’t hook-laden, the musical performances are very good, particularly Aubin Wise (who some folks might recognize as Nettie from Speakeasy Stage Company’s outstanding “The Color Purple”) whose vocal range and phrasing spans a variety of musical styles beautifully. The band is also first rate, with a piano, drums and reeds deftly presenting a number of musical genres. Bridge Rep has shown that they’re not afraid to take chances with their choice of productions, and “Hello Again” is evidence of that. It may not be for everybody, but it’s certainly a solid production with some good performances. For more info, go to: http://bridgerep.wordpress.com/