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Theater review: Far From Heaven -- 3.5 stars

Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale in

Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale in "Far From Heaven" Photo Credit: handout

Far from Heaven
3.5 stars

Off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons really ought to receive some kind of recognition for the uniformly superb quality of its entire recent season, which was packed with challenging and rewarding new plays, including Samuel D. Hunter’s “The Whale” and Annie Baker’s “The Flick.”

That season now comes to a remarkable finish with “Far from Heaven,” an emotionally sweeping new musical based on the 2002 Todd Haynes film starring Julianne Moore, which was inspired by the melodramatic, Eisenhower-era flicks of Douglas Sirk.

It explores Cathy (Kelli O’Hara), a 1950s housewife and mother whose perfect suburban Connecticut lifestyle is shattered by the realization that her husband (Steven Pasquale) is gay.

She then finds an unlikely friendship with her African-American gardener Raymond (Isaiah Johnson), which leads to her becoming a target of vicious gossip and forces Raymond to move away to protect his child.

Richard Greenberg’s book sticks closely to the film, whose emotional characters, trapped in a repressive environment, are rife for launching into song.

With music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie, “Far from Heaven” offers what has turned into a rare commodity: a rich, operatic, tightly integrated post-Sondheim score that, in spite some inflections of jazz, is not done in a pop-rock idiom.

Michael Greif’s strong production is unusually large by Off-Broadway standards, with an 18-person cast and a 12-person orchestra. However, it cries out for a more scenic design than two skeletal staircases and photo projections.

O’Hara combines a surface of photogenic, Stepford Wife respectability with sincere, overlooked yearnings. As is always the case with O’Hara, her singing is pure and stunning.

One can’t help but wonder if “Far from Heaven” will transfer to Broadway. There hasn’t been a score like this there since “The Light in the Piazza” in 2005. If there is no place for it there, it is Broadway’s loss and a chilling reminder of its commercial limitations.

If you go: “Far from Heaven” plays at Playwrights Horizons through July 7. 416 W. 42nd St., 212-279-4200, playwrightshorizons.org.

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