Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray took on new life this summer in a musical adaptation as part of the New York Musical Festival. NYMF is a three-week annual festival that seeks to shine the spotlight on new works, many of which go on to perform Off-Broadway, and some even make it to the Great White Way! Dorian Gray: The Musical began as a graduate thesis project for playwright Christopher Dayett, with music arranged by Kevin Mucchetti. Last week, the beta musical appeared in three showings at the Acorn Theater. Director Christen Mandracchia invited me to attend a performance and share my opinion on the show.The production begins by framing the story within a discussion about morality and art, as the actors pace the stage, quoting from Oscar Wilde’s preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray. The first song they sing is one called Temptation, which functions as the theme of the show, reprising four more times before the end. The cast includes ten actors, with some of the supporting members taking on multiple roles, and they work wonders with a minimalist set, consisting of only a few black blocks and a door. Piano arrangements by Kevin Mucchetti accompany the actors’ singing for the twenty-six musical numbers.
For me, the high points of this production were mainly in the acting. Particularly clever was the use of a separate actor to portray Dorian’s portrait. Actor Carter Horton used this minimal role to bring life to the entire production. His appearances for much of the first act essentially consist of standing perfectly still while holding a picture frame in front of himself. His statuesque stillness allows every slight movement or shift in expression to be magnified, through which the audience can trace the slight changes in Dorian’s morality and his relationship to the portrait. In the second act he becomes more dynamic, and his gruesome portrayal is at times genuinely frightening.
Also perfectly cast was Lee Cortopassi as Lord Henry Wotton. He caught my attention before the show even started, as he warmed up on stage, dancing and singing for the audience’s entertainment and quipping with his fellow actors. During the production, his delivery perfectly captured Lord Henry’s arch wit and decadent indifference. His lines were some of the most humorous in the show, and he had a good rapport with the actors playing Basil and Dorian. Topher Layton as Basil Hallward also deserves some praise, especially for making sure that the original novel’s homoerotic undertones were brought to the forefront. The costumes on these two actors were perhaps my favorite part of the show, from Lord Henry’s gorgeous frock coat to Basil’s gaudy suspenders.
My main complaint was that Christopher Dayett made some … interesting changes to the plot, some of which had significant consequences. A few of these plot changes seem to have been influenced by the 2009 film adaptation of Dorian Gray, starring Ben Barnes, which diverts significantly from the novel in its second half. While in some ways, I can see how these altered plot lines add more drama and replace abstract conflict with something more concrete that is easier to portray on the stage, I also found them to significantly affect the essential meaning of the story. These changes were particularly jarring when combined with scenes that were such faithful and straightforward adaptations of the novel. However, I do tend to be a book purist, so I will leave you to form your own opinion. I also wasn’t entirely sold on the musical element. None of the songs particularly stayed with me or convinced me that the musical format was essential to this retelling.
Did you get the chance to see the show last week? What did you think? What would you want to see in a musical adaptation of Dorian Gray? Let me know in the comments!