44° Good Evening
44° Good Evening

'Doctor Zhivago' review: Not much snow, or soul

Kelli Barrett as Lara and Tam Mutu as

Kelli Barrett as Lara and Tam Mutu as Dr. Zhivago star in "Doctor Zhivago," which opened on April 21, 2015 at the Broadway Theatre in Manhattan. It is closing on Sunday. Credit: Jason Bell

As relations with Russia return to the deep freeze, it may seem reasonable to make a musical out of "Doctor Zhivago," the Cold War epic based on Boris Pasternak's Nobel-winning 1957 novel and the sweeping, romantic 1965 movie that starred Omar Sharif and Julie Christie as beautiful doomed lovers covered in snow.

Then, too, this ambitious but politically vapid new adaptation may feed some unexpressed hunger for the Masterpiece Musicals of the '80s, now that the revolutionaries and urchins of "Les Misérables" have been storming the barricades for so very long.

The production, attractively peopled and directed by Des McAnuff ("Jersey Boys"), has a cast of 32 -- and even more producers listed above the title. The show has big lung-bursting ballads, military anthems and folk-tinged dance music composed by Lucy Simon ("The Secret Garden"). There are sentimental lyrics by Amy Powers and Michael Korie that, despite the grown-up emotions involved, are stuck in nursery-school rhymes -- dark/heart, hide/wide, face-to-face/heart race. Not to worry. We also get "Lara's Theme" from the movie.

At the center, and rightly so, is Tam Mutu as the noble poet and doctor Zhivago, oppressed by the nascent Soviets as they purge the intellectuals and the well-to-do. Mutu, a British star in his impressive Broadway debut, has a heroic, chiseled presence and the flexible, high baritone to go with it.

In Michael Weller's fact-stuffed but monotonous adaptation, however, we never get beyond knowing that Zhivago -- and Pasternak -- suffered horribly in the early decades of last century. We don't know why the ideals of the young firebrand revolutionary (Paul Alexander Nolan) got poisoned into barbarism. Without socio-historical context, we only know that the rebels are bad, the aristocrats are good and love -- not to mention poetry -- elevates hearts battered by history.

Kelli Barrett is strong and passionately lovely as Lara, the shop girl who, before locking souls with the doctor, is exploited by the profiteering old lech (Tom Hewitt) and marries the rebel who pursues Zhivago with the zeal of Javert chasing Jean Valjean in "Les Miz."

Where "Les Miz" sympathized with the protesters, this one sides, less persuasively, with the ruling class. But there are barricades made of chairs and a spinning platform that, like the "Les Miz" turntable, hauls around the oppressed.

The action -- with fancy parties, brutal World War I and revolutionary battlefields, plundering Cossacks, man-starved women peasants, Siberia -- all takes place on designer Michael Scott-Mitchell's vast, deep, columned hall that decays with society. We get smoke, fire, projections and dark silhouettes walking in the rain with umbrellas. But except for a few flurries at the end, surprisingly, this Cold War has no snow.

WHAT “Doctor Zhivago”
WHERE Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway
INFO $42.50-$145; 212-239-6200;
BOTTOM LINE Ambitious but politically vapid adaptation



More Entertainment