Christiane Noll and Glenn Seven Allen in A Fine & Private Place
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Christiane Noll and Glenn Seven Allen
in A Fine & Private Place
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
A Fine & Private Place, the new musical at the York Theatre based on Peter S. Beagle's beloved novel, is the kind of show one admires more than likes. The creators, Richard Isen and Erik Haagensen, are to be commended for writing this gentle love story set in a graveyard, complete with ghosts and a talking bird. But a show with such a spiritual underpinning needs to touch our souls and to really soar. Despite some strong performances and excellent work from the design team, this one remains earthbound.

Two stories unfold in A Fine & Private Place; the first is about Laura (Christiane Noll) and Michael (Glenn Seven Allen). Both recently died in their early thirties, and their unsettled souls meet in the cemetery. Michael claims to have been murdered by his wife, while Laura feels that she died before she ever allowed herself to live. The two begin to find solace in one another as they slowly confide truths that neither would have spoken had they met when they were still among the living.

The other story focuses on Rebeck (Joseph Kolinski), an older man who lives in the cemetery and can see and speak to the ghosts. He is their spirit guide, telling them what to expect and keeping them company until they inevitably disappear to some other place in the great beyond. Rebeck is supplied with food and drink by a wisecracking raven played by Gabriel Barre, who is also the show's director. Into their lives comes Gertrude (Evalyn Baron), a grieving widow who has been visiting her husband's grave for more than a year. Rebeck knew her husband (as a ghost), but as he comes to know this loving and caring woman, he begins to feel that he is coming alive.

The biggest problem with A Fine & Private Place is that it doesn't successfully lace these two stories together. The ghosts of Laura and Michael have almost nothing to do with Rebeck except at the beginning and end of the show; there should be at least one song earlier on that reconnects them to their spirit guide. Moreover, the creators need to deepen Rebeck's commitment to the cemetery and its inhabitants, so that more would be at stake when Gertrude asks him to leave and start a new life. The score is rather mundane, with Isen's music sounding like it's mostly in service to Haagensen's lyrics. In general, the songs are more about providing exposition than exploring the characters' feelings.

Just as the book and score are uneven, so is the cast. Noll and Allen sing their roles beautifully. Kolinski also sings well, yet his acting choices are obvious and his performance is heavy-handed; in contrast, Baron has a downright irritating singing voice but her acting is nicely nuanced. Meanwhile, Barre flies away with the show; his comic timing is delicious, and his little bits of business add enormously to the fun of this otherwise stolid work.

If the show isn't always a great to listen to, it's certainly always worth looking at. James Morgan's fluid set design creates a variety of playing spaces; Jeff Croiter's lighting does an extremely effective job of creating the ghostly world; and Pamela Scofield's costumes, especially for the raven, are excellent. But, on the whole, A Fine & Private Place disappoints.