A strong cast can't save this misbegotten musical adaptation of Herman Hesse's Siddhartha
Lesson #1: Things like time and place location are not mere niceties. Sidd is presumably set in India, but it's a bit hard to tell -- especially since the young hero's best pal is named Valerie. And if we're in the present day, as some scenes seem to suggest, why are there still mystics in the forest? Also, where does one find the Buddha lounging around in Mumbai? As for time, the baldly expository lines connoting the passage of not just years but decades are really amateurish. And it doesn't help matters that none of the actors do anything to make themselves seem physically older, even though Sidd has to have aged at least 40 years by show's end.
Lesson #2: Minimalism is a lovely furniture style but it doesn't really work well for musicals. Yes, budgets are tight these days, but the single piece of stretched cloth used by designer Maruti Evans doesn't suffice to indicate the various scenes, even when amplified by the occasional projection or prop. Michael Bevins's mostly white costumes do the trick, though, even with limited changes.
Lesson #3: Imitation isn't always the sincerest form of flattery. There is a sense throughout Sidd that Frank and Silver are less concerned with the actual story they're telling than with showing how many different musical styles they can play with. The net result is that the hodgepodge score only serves to bring to mind a bunch of superior shows. For example, "Happy Shop," in which Sidd first meets Mala (the brothel owner he'll eventually marry), sounds as if it had been written for Chicago. "Everybody Needs Something," in which Sidd encounters his eventual business partner, a Jewish traveling salesman named Willie (paging Arthur Miller!), could be a trunk song from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. And "He Is My Son" would fit nicely into Les Miz. When all is said and done, one gets the nagging feeling that Sidd is, in essence, an attempt to replicate the success of Stephen Schwartz's 1970s crowd pleaser Godspell. (No such luck, I'm afraid.)
On the plus side, Frank and Silver have already learned one of the musical theater's most valuable lessons -- the importance of proper casting -- even if there were two major changes during previews.The first was putting Bombay Dreams star Manu Narayan in the title role in place of Neil Maffin. (Apparently, he had done the show in workshop but wasn't originally available for this run.) He's a strong, believable presence and does quite a bit to flesh out his surprisingly underdeveloped character. The same can be said for the sultry Natalie Cortez as Mala, who rises far above the whore-with-a-heart-of-gold stereotype. The remainder of the ensemble -- the delicious Marie France-Arcilla, the comically satisfying Dann Fink, the lovely if underused Nicole Lewis, the distinctly talented Arthur W. Marks, and the always commanding Gerry McIntyre -- do yeoman work in a variety of roles.