Just say 'nyet' to this plodding musical adaptation of the Boris Pasternak classic
"Doctor Zhivago" Kelli Barrett and Tam Mutu
Credit: Matthew Murphy

Doctor Zhivago

Here’s the thing about love stories for the ages: chemistry is kind of important. Make that supremely important. So any adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s 1957 Nobel Prize-winning novel hinges on whether Dr. Zhivago and Lara are visibly burning and longing and aching for one another. They are some of literature’s most beloved star-crossed lovers, each married to another, with a passion that endures through wars, imprisonment, and plenty of iced-vodka-cold Russian winters.

Sadly, you never quite believe over the course of the misguided musical version of Doctor Zhivago that there’s any great romance–much less a spark of attraction–between the poet-physician Yurii Zhivago (Tam Mutu) and his alleged paramour, the idealistic nurse Lara (Kelli Barrett). Mutu, known mostly for stage work in London, is smoldering and strong, but as with any functional relationship, needs someone his equal. While Barrett’s singing voice is undeniably beautiful, she seems to believe every line out of a Russian love story deserves overwrought delivery. When our title character has a worthy adversary here, as with the underhanded Viktor Komarovsky (Tom Hewitt) or Lara’s revolutionary husband Pasha (Paul Alexander Nolan, who occasionally strays too far into the “more is more” camp of acting), the story finds its pulse.

Two-time Tony-winning director Des McAnuff (The Who’s Tommy) doesn’t do the show any favors with dull staging, overuse of projections (heaven forbid we think 1919 is 1920!), and far too many deafeningly-loud explosives through battle scenes. (Did he think they would wake up the audience?) While we’re on the subject of auditory unfortunateness, Lucy Simon’s score and Michael Korie and Amy Powers’ lyrics are haunting at their finest (and admittedly, rarest) moments and just plain boring at their worst. There’s a scene in which Maurice Jarre’s “Lara’s Theme” (from the 1965 Oscar-winning movie starring a sizzling Omar Sharif and ravishing Julie Christie) is performed and you can almost feel the audience yearning for what might have been. C–

Doctor Zhivago
  • Stage