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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 23, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 43
The 5th Avenue's new Waterfall breaks the surface
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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The 5th Avenue's new Waterfall breaks the surface

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

WATERFALL
THE 5TH AVENUE THEATRE
Through October 25


The 5th Avenue Theatre continues to work above and beyond by taking risks on new musicals. So far they have produced 17 original productions, with nine of them going to Broadway, two of which have gone on to win the prestigious Tony Award for Best Musical. The latest original production is Waterfall, based on the Thai musical entitled Behind the Painting, which is based on a novel (also entitled Behind the Painting) by Siburapha. This musical incarnation is a throwback to the musicals of yesteryear summoning similarities (sometimes too many) of Rodgers & Hammerstein.

The storyline is very simple - and a bit predictable if not cliché. From the very opening scene, the rest of the storyline is easy to pick up on and even easier to follow. A Thai man named Noppon (Bie Sukrit) is living with his wife and getting ready to move home. His wife finds an old (badly done) painting of a waterfall and asks about the meaning. Noppon explains it was a gift from a 'friend' and the flashback story is recalled. In the early 1930s, Noppon is working for the Siamese government and quickly gets assigned to Japan with the Siamese Ambassador. It is there that Noppon meets Katherine (Laura Griffith) the Ambassador's much younger wife. After Noppon walks Katherine home the two of them fall in love. It is at a scenic waterfall that the two consummate their love and inspires Katherine to create the painting. When the Ambassador is called back to Siam due to the aggression of the upcoming war with Japan, Noppon is left behind to work with the embassy. Five years later, and after Katheine's husband's death, Noppon is called back to Siam (now called Thailand) where Katherine watches him being welcomed back by his family and fiancée.

The two leads of this musical do excellent jobs. It is hard not to fall in love with Katherine when played so beautifully by Laura Griffith. Ms. Griffith's voice is pure and strong, easily reaching the back of the house and emoting each song with wonderful interpretation. She shows the audience her character's conflict of being married to an older man and falling in love with a younger one and lets us, the audience, become endeared with her. Noppon played by Thai superstar Bie Sukrit is excellent. The naiveté of his character comes out by the exuberance Noppon shows for getting hired at the embassy. His voice is soothing and beautiful, easy to understand, and flies through the audience without trouble. He knows how to use the lyrics showing emotion and projecting with the song.

The members of the ensemble all do good jobs with their supporting roles. Kumiko, played by Lisa Helmi Johanson, is an American born Japanese woman who embraces the American lifestyle at her dance club in Japan. Her song 'The United States of Japan' is feisty and she delivers it with comic timing and strong voice. The song is easily compared to the Flower Drum Song classic (Rodgers & Hammerstein) 'Grant Avenue' for its Asian dichotomy embracing American mannerisms and behaviors. J. Elaine Marcos plays Nuan, the hand servant to Katherine, and it is her character that shows the conflict between traditional and modern roles and behaviors as the country transforms from Siam to Thailand.

Without doubt it is the lavish set of the running waterfall that dominates the show. It is beautiful to watch and instantly transforms the stage to a lush, scene in a hidden grotto. The audience easily escapes, along with the lovers, into this secret beautiful heaven. The credit here goes to Sasavat Busayabandh as Scenic Designer. The vision expressed here is truly amazing and breathtaking to watch. Even the sliding panels of the other sets are done beautifully with great detail that all helps to add to the magic of theater.

The collaborative team members behind Waterfall are not strangers to the Broadway musical, and it is here that questions arise. Richard Maltby, Jr., who also penned the musicals Baby, Big and Closer than Ever, writes the book and lyrics. His work for the lyrics on Miss Saigon is brilliant and stimulating, but the lyrics for Waterfall definitely fall short. The songs are very reminiscent of Oscar Hammerstein's work in the way there are no controversial lyrics, no foul language, nothing that could be interpreted as thought provoking, and, Hammerstein's work notwithstanding, nothing that really stays with the listener. David Shire who also worked on Baby, Big and Closer than Ever with Richard Maltby Jr. writes the music. The melodies of the show are beautiful and at times, haunting. It is the blending of Asian tones with American influences that give the songs in this show the extra boost.

The book and lyrics of Waterfall need work. But that is one of the exciting things about producing an original show - there's always room for improvements. The storyline is homage (whether meant to or not) to a mashing up of Flower Drum Song and The King and I, except Rodgers and Hammerstein did it better. Having not read the book, I cannot compare the script to the original source, but if the stage adaptation from the novel is an accurate one, I'm guessing it would be very predictable and clichéd reading.

For more information, visit https://www.5thavenue.org/

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