PASSION, Pegasus Players. Stephen Sondheim's most unabashedly romantic musical is also his lamest--a musically derivative, dramatically unconvincing soap opera that wouldn't have made it past its first backers' audition if not for the composer's name. This pseudooperatic adaptation of Ettore Scola's 1981 film Passione d'amore concerns an unattractive, neurotic divorcee named Fosca (Anne Tolpegin, whose makeup and bearing recall an Edward Gorey cartoon) who becomes obsessed with an idealistic young military officer (the very strong James Weitzer), who in turn is having an affair with a married woman. Fosca's passionate pursuit, self-degrading and overbearingly possessive, at first offends the handsome soldier but eventually overwhelms him: exhibiting a variant of the Stockholm syndrome, he breaks up with his lover and gives himself completely to his mortally ill stalker, with devastating but transforming results.
Pegasus Players, which has specialized in neglected Sondheim shows over the years, gives this one its all in Warner Crocker's attractively designed, mostly well played staging, which unlike most off-Loop shows features a full-fledged pit orchestra. But the bathetic material is too much to overcome: the tedious score recycles melodies and rhythmic patterns from such vastly superior works as Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music, while Sondheim's glib, uninspired rhymes and playwright James Lapine's contrived characterizations rob the offbeat story of credibility. What a comedown for the team that wrote Into the Woods.