So many people do so much serious work in "Far From Heaven," the much-anticipated musical adaptation of the 2002 movie about a perfect suburban couple torn apart in 1957 by two kinds of taboo love. Too bad the effort shows.
An 18-member cast, including self-challenging Kelli O'Hara as the wife, crowd a year's worth of heartaches and a Connecticut town-full of locations onto the modest Playwrights Horizons stage. In the pit, music defies Off-Broadway economics with a 12-piece orchestra.
Clearly, ambitions are bigger than this sold-out run for the show, created by most of the same team that first opened the wildly smart and eccentric "Grey Gardens" in this theater seven years ago. Improvements were made before that one moved to Broadway. Can adjustments bring "Far From Heaven" closer to Broadway, too?
Maybe not this time. Despite all the conscientious character-building and storytelling in Michael Greif's staging, the show, with a book by Richard Greenberg ("The Assembled Parties"), feels like a schematic soaper with recent social history lessons about racism and homophobia. Perhaps we have been "Mad Menned" out by now on impeccable period costumes and advertising executives with secrets and abandoned wives with secrets of their own.
More likely, the conflicts are just cliched and banal without the creamy, otherworldly cinematography of the Todd Haynes movie. Significant scenes, including one at a diner where black people dress up and dance in the afternoon, are impossible to believe. A song of gossipy comments at a gallery opening is far too reminiscent of the staccato museum syncopation in "Sunday in the Park With George." The neighbor wives are mostly cartoon idiots and shrews who, in a song about their sex lives, declare "We get his paycheck, let him get his."
O'Hara, conspicuously along in her own pregnancy, brings her crisp beauty and compassionate intelligence to a role that demands quiet depths of an internal life and steely high notes during crises. Steven Pasquale, with his stylish edge and multicolored baritone, effectively charts the disintegration of a family man who prefers men. Isaiah Johnson has less to work with as the noble black man, the wife's different kind of love that could not speak its name.
Scott Frankel's music tends toward '50s pastiche, dotted with boogie woogie, dance rhythms and challenging vocal ranges. Michael Korie's lyrics are more of a problem, including such wincers as, "How do you fly with broken wings?" and "The worse it hurts, the more a person grows/as heaven only knows." Too bad.
WHAT "Far From Heaven"
WHERE Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.
INFO $80; 212-279-4200; playwrightshorizons.org
BOTTOM LINE Not there yet.