Theatre Review: “Paradise Found” @ Menier Chocolate Factory, 06/22

To find the words to describe how terrible Paradise Found is quite difficult. Do I call it boring? awful? dreadful? Maybe I should use all three words to describe it; whatever the case may be it felt like it was six long hours (even though it was just two) and unfortunately, I want my money and two hours of my life back.

Paradise Found closed it’s five-week run last Saturday (June 26th, 2010) which I’m sure everyone in the cast was grateful for. On paper, Paradise Found should be a hit and not any old hit – a HUGE one! First off, the Menier Choclate Factory is riding high with all of their Tony Awards for their transferred production of La Cage aux Folles on Broadway and A Little Night Music (Catherine Zeta-Jones also won a Tony Award for Best Actress). They also transferred Sweet Charity to London’s West End to well-earned rave reviews. (I saw the latter and loved it!) On top of all of that the creative team and cast of this production is to die for.

Here’s the creative team line-up: Co-Director – Hal Prince (who’s won 24 Tony Awards), Co-Director/Choreographer – Susan Stroman (who’s won 5 Tony Awards), Jonathan Tunick – Adaptor/Arranger/Orchestrations (one of 8 people who holds a Tony, Emmy, Grammy and Academy Awards), Howell Binkley – Lighting Designer (Tony Award winner for Jersey Boys), Beowulf Boritt – Set Design (5 Broadway shows and over 50 Off-Broadway shows – 3 Drama Desk nominations and others), Judith Dolan – Costume Design (Tony Award winner), Duncan Edwards – Sound Design (started Audio Design International) and the list continues. And this is just the creative team.

You then have the cast (to name only a few): George Lee Andrews (original cast of Phantom of the Opera), Kate Baldwin (2010 Tony Award nomination for Finian’s Rainbow), Shuler Hensley (Jud Fry in Oklahoma! – Olivier and Tony Awards), Pamela Winslow Kashani (original Rapunzel in Into the Woods), Judy Kaye (Tony Award winner), John McMartin (Tony Award nominations for five shows), Nancy Opel (Tony nomination for Urinetown), and Mandy Patinkin (Tony Award winner, Film star, Emmy Award winner, Solo Recording Artist).

Do you see why I bought tickets?

With all of these incredible people working on a show, you think that you might have a sure-fire hit, right? Wrong. No one – even the incredible Hal Prince and Susan Stroman – can save a show if the material is bad. Yes, it might be “high” quality, but high quality work on the worst script and score doesn’t equal success.

With all of these extremely talented people working on  Paradise Found, did anyone ever stop and think, “Is this worth even producing?”

In a nutshell, the reason why Paradise Found was boring, awful and dreadful was because of these three reasons:

  • The story adapted from the novel, The Tale of the 1002nd Night by Joseph Roth, was confusing, hard to follow and extremely hard to grasp.
  • The music was written by the 1800’s Viennese composer, Johann Strauss II. The entire score sounded exactly the same – a lot of waltzes.
  • The lyrics, by Ellen Fitzhugh, were colloquial, strangely adapted for the music and overall inconsistent.

With those three things going against it, Mandy Patinkin’s nuanced performance as the Eunuch or Kate Baldwin’s incredibly beautiful voice or Shuler Hensley’s conflicted protrayal of The Baron or even Nancy Opel’s comedic genius couldn’t fix the problems with the score, script and lyrics. I honestly couldn’t believe how much talent there was on that intimate stage and yet, I couldn’t care less about any of the characters or story.

If it wasn’t for the fact that Patinkin and the rest of the cast were only five feet away from my seat, I probably would have joined the twenty to thirty percent of the audience that left during intermission. But come on, it’s Patinkin! I couldn’t make myself leave, even though I hated it. (Unfortunately, the second act was worse than the first!)

Paradise Found confirms that just because you might have an outstanding production team and an extremely celebrated and talented cast, doesn’t mean that your production will be good. All it means is that if it does suck, it’s just all the more embarrassing. And frankly, the Menier Chocolate Factory should be very embarrassed.

Lesson hopefully learned.

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