Hello Again – Lincoln Center 1994
Hello Again by Michael John LaChiusa, directed and choreographed by Graciela Daniele, opened on January 30, 1994 at Lincoln Center Theater. This was a remarkable achievement since, only one short year before, the idea of making a musical suggested by the classic Arthur Schnitzler play La Ronde was just a passing notion on the part of Graciela Daniele. After she mentioned to us that she thought that La Ronde might make a good dance-theater piece, we asked composer/lyricist Michael John LaChiusa if he’d ever read it. About three days later, LaChiusa called to say he’d written the opening scene. A couple of weeks later, when Michael John and Graciela met for the first time, three scenes were sketched out, and we knew we were on to something.
Hello Again uses the famous circular structure of Schnitzler’s play: a series of ten dialogues leading to sexual encounters, each scene linked by a character from the previous one until the first and last characters meet at the end. Where Schnitzler focused on the social satire of his own 1890’s Vienna, Hello Again encompasses America throughout the Twentieth Century. Though each scene is set in a different decade, the ten characters are on a universal journey. The longing that leads to sex masks their desire for an elusive emotional connection. Through these private moments come some of the most soul-searching songs in contemporary musical theater.
The collaboration between LaChiusa and Daniele on Hello Again was a secure and satisfying blend of writing and staging. The production was simple and elegant, yet filled with nuance. The script and score were ingenious in creating ten different scenes that crossed the boundaries of time while keeping the connection between characters. The depiction of sex and sexuality was both bold and graceful in its choreography, never becoming lewd and never removed from the emotional context.
Hello Again is almost all sung, seamlessly wedding dialogue with soaring melody. Though this recording captures much of what was onstage, it is worth mentioning that each scene was beautiful to look at, as well. Here are ten visual highlights of Hello Again:
- The Whore and The Soldier dance a raw sexual waltz in and out of the shadows of a dim turn-of-the-century streetlamp, under the majestic stone archway that hovers over the stage.
- The Nurse in 1944, alone on a bare stage, contemplating the loss of her innocence as it begins to rain.
- A striptease turned on its side in the 1960s, as The Nurse ties The College Boy’s hands together with her stocking and conquers him on his mother’s couch.
- The Young Wife’s attempts to arouse The College Boy in a 1930s movie theater (in front of the other patrons) as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers literally burst forth from the screen.
- The Young Wife in the 1950s substitutes a pillow for herself under The Husband as she fantasizes during sex with him. Her fantasy is shared with her mirror image (portrayed by The Whore) in a stunning dance of repressed passion.
- A sly tango between The Husband and The (not-so-innocent) Young Thing in which they try to arouse each other before the ocean liner they are on (the Titanic!) achieves its own climax.
- The screams of the Titanic passengers dissolve into the whoops of the wild disco crowd who part, revealing the hilariously perfect details of The Writer’s 1976 purple velvet bell-bottom suit.
- The out-of-sync silent movie of the 1920s in which The Actress overpowers The Writer behind her dressing screen.
- The glamorous apartment terrace where the members of the company watch music videos of the 1980s, then observe the desperate efforts of The Actress to seduce The Senator as if they were just characters on another television program.
- The surreal image of a bed under a floating window where The Senator both telephones The Whore in the present and kisses her in the past. And finally, the echo of each character, revealed through a wall, as they complete the circle of Hello Again.
All this was achieved onstage at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater with a masterful use of minimal scenery by designer Derek McLane. A bed, couch or table established each decade with just the right spread, appliance or place setting. A shaft of light designed by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer not only created a mood but served as architecture, defining space and allowing the all important shadows to exist as well. Toni-Leslie James’s costumes were both a mirror of the time periods and a reflection of the characters’ souls. Michael Starobin’s orchestrations, as you will hear, were indispensable to the conception of LaChiusa’s score. And it must be noted that the company of ten actors was one of the finest ensembles ever put together for a musical.
Hello Again is a true rarity in today’s theater. It is a new American musical born of a collaboration between Graciela Daniele, a seasoned artist at the peak of her career, and Michael John LaChiusa, an important and original new voice beginning to come into his own.
– Ira Weitzman, Director of Musical Theater, Lincoln Center Theater
Judy Blazer Carolee Carmello John Dossett Malcom Gets John Cameron Mitchell Donna Murphy Michael Park Dennis Parlato Michelle Pawk David White