PASSION, Porchlight Theatre, at the Athenaeum Theatre. When Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's most recent musical, Passion, opened on Broadway in May 1994, it received mixed reviews. But as performed by Porchlight Theatre under less than optimal conditions--small budget, clever but creaky set, an ensemble whose singing ranges from pretty good to barely passable--the work comes off as deeply flawed.
The unconvincing story is adapted from the 1981 movie Passione d'amore: a handsome Italian soldier discovers the meaning of true passion when he becomes involved with a deeply troubled, clingy, not very attractive woman. Not only do we never believe the soldier has fallen in love, we don't even believe this vain man would strike up a friendship with such a woman--especially since he has a gorgeous mistress.
You might expect the score to do some of the narrative work. But the show's tunes, which sound lush and operatic on the Broadway sound track, seem like so much refried Sondheim when performed by Porchlight's two-man band. Some of the blame has to fall on the actors. Jason Holland walks through the role of the soldier. And Marlene Flood, playing the object of his passion, rarely plumbs her character's rich, tragic depths and losses. But for the most part director J. Walter Stearns and his cast stumble over obstacles in the book and score that Sondheim and Lapine failed to smooth over.