Using a concept album as the basis for a musical is not a new thing. Jesus Christ Superstar comes to mind as a classic example but also more recent hits like Hadestown and Hamilton started their journey as concept-albums. Funnily enough The Wrong Man shares an orchestrator and a director with that last production. Ross Golan, credited as the bookwriter, lyricist and composer, started writing these songs over 10 years ago and released the concept album just this summer. So the question is, how did Thomas Kail, director of Hamilton, shape the songs into a musical-narrative? The honest answer is that Thomas barely touched the songs and the narrative therefore becomes very stale very quickly.
The story is set in Reeno Nevada where we meet the main character of the play, and one of three named characters, Duran (Joshua Henry). Duran lays the groundwork for the coming tale as he claims ‘The Wrong Man is singing this song,’ and he explains that at the point when the story starts his partner of long time has left with her kids and he’s alone. At this point he meets Mariana (Ciara Renée), the supposed love of his life. She hides from him the fact that she has an ex who’s in jail. And so when he, ‘The Man in Black,’ (Anoop Desai) gets out of jail he seeks revenge on Duran. He kills Mariana and an innocent bystander only to blame Duran for the murder. Duran thus becomes the titular ‘Wrong Man’
We don’t get to see a lot of acting from the ensemble and we focus mostly on the three named characters. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact that this show is a bit dramaturgically confused.
The acting in this show is phenomenal, especially when considered that most songs are from Duran’s point-of-view and therefore Joshua Henry has to carry both the role of the narrator as the role of himself within the story. Since the story is quite compact, the show only runs for 90 minutes, We don’t get to see a lot of acting from the ensemble and we focus mostly on the three named characters. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact that this show is a bit dramaturgically confused. Like mentioned before Duran narrates the song as ‘The Wrong Man’ singing this song so when he introduces his new girlfriend with the song ‘Take Off Your Clothes’ we never get to see much of her personality. She becomes a Macguffin, an object the writer uses to push the plot. Because Duran sleeps with Mariana he gets on her boyfriend’s bad side, and therefore Duran will get blamed for the murders ‘the Man in Black’ is going to commit. It doesn’t help that the lyrics that describe Mariana heavily objectify her. Then when we come to the conflict of the story we finally get a chance to flesh out Mariana’s character as she sings ‘Some Good People do Bad Things,’ breaking with the concept that Duran ‘Sings this Song,’ but once again her role is merely functional as she introduces ‘the Man in Black’ as the villain. So the switch from PoV to Mariana is solely for expositional reasons. Afterwards we go back to Duran’s PoV interspersed with two songs by ‘The Man in Black’ that basically confirm what we already know: he’s evil.
The show is sung through as you could have already deduced from my description and this fact works against the show. A lot of musicals are sung through but they incorporate style-breaks and different styles of songs to keep the show interesting. Ballads, duets and group-songs mix and mingle to create a narrative. The nature of this show prevents it from doing that because it is a one-person narrative. The creators of this show should have given more character introduction to the other two named characters and strayed from their concept of ‘The Wrong Man singing this song’ because as it is right now we have an unreliable narrator who objectifies his girlfriend and for seemingly no reason does nothing to fight his sentence.
The problems with this show are basically only within the writing though. Travis Wall’s choreography is a godsent to this production as it tells the audience what the text refuses to tell. Travis’ ingenious idea of using physical parallels to the characters in a separated choreography works great. Especially in the minimalistic set designed by Hadestown’s Rachel Hauck. Rachel’s set has two groups of audience members on either side of the stage creating the feel of a court-house. her design for the backwall of the stage extends to towards the audience and the striped-motive allows for mood lighting to go all around the stage. She also uses the space’s concrete walls to great effect by lighting them in a cold way to suggest the cold prison walls.
To summarize I feel that this show definitely has potential. It creates opportunities for the actors to truly go all out and since there are only really 3 characters they can really, really go all out. It is a shame though that the writing isn’t as strong as one would hope it to be. They don’t follow through with the interesting premise and leave you more confused than if you had only read the plot. I hope they keep workshopping the show to get it right, because to be honest, Hadestown took 10 years to get to Broadway from its first stage-outing. I’m interested to see how this show will grow but I think what we witnessed now was very much an unfinished project.
ROSS GOLAN: book, music and lyrics, THOMAS KAIL: director, ALEX LACAMOIRE: music supervision, vocal arrangements and orchestrations, TRAVIS WALL: choreographer, scenic design by RACHEL HAUCK, costume design by JENNIFER MOELLER & KRISTIN ISOLA, lighting design by BETSY ADAMS, sound design by NEVIN STEINBERG
hair & make-up design by TOMMY KURZMAN , music director TAYLOR PECKHAM, music coordinator MICHAEL AARONS, production stage manager JASON PACELLA