Everyone knows the plot of Oscar Wilde’s classic novel from its numerous film and television incarnations, most recently in Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. An attractive young man poses for a portrait, becomes obsessed with youth and beauty, and pledges to sell his soul to stay young while the portrait ages in his place. As he plunges into a life of debauchery, that’s exactly what happens.
In Dorian’s Descent, a musical version of the story that’s making its premiere at the MET in Hollywood, most of Wilde’s characters are present, including Dorian Gray (Michael D’Elia), the artist Basil Hallward (Jeremy Saje), Lord Henry Wotton (Kelly Brighton), the actress Sibyl Vane (Cassandra Nuss) and her brother, James (Tony Graham). A new addition here is a literal demon (Toni Smith), who accepts Dorian’s damned soul in exchange for eternal youth.
This DOMA Theatre Company production is certainly ambitious, but it is also busy, noisy and derivative. In an effort to bring Wilde into the 21st century, the creators threw everything into the mix, referencing shows like Chicago and Pippin and composers like Schwartz and Sondheim — and it just can’t support all that weight. Director Marco Gomez, co-writing the lyrics with composer Chris Raymond, really piles it on — and it’s all too much.
The first problem is the score. The songs are reminiscent of popular Broadway shows, but the lyrics are numbingly repetitive — and they’re served by the bucketload. The first act has 16 credited numbers and the second has eight. When I first looked at the program, I thought it had to be an opera with so much music, but it has a book, too. That’s the second problem — the book, by Gomez and Michael Gray, outlines the derivative lyrics that the characters are getting ready to sing. And sing they do….again and again. For nearly three hours.
The third problem is the staging. The cast is quite large, with background performers continuously entering in different costumes. Speaking of costumes, designer Michael Mullen must have worked 24 hours a day to create what seems like hundreds of changes. Characters keep showing up in sharkskin suits, glittery disco getups, prom dresses, and bird outfits. It’s like Grand Central Station in drag.
Now for the positives. John Iacovelli’s set looks good, and Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting is quite effective. Raymond’s orchestra sounds fine, and all the performers sing well, with the chorus being especially nice. It’s just a shame they didn’t have better lyrics to sing.
I’ve seen some good stuff staged by DOMA (Tommy) and some travesties (Jacques Brel). The company tends toward musical superproductions, but frequently these lofty ambitions can result in a jumbled end-product. Such is the case here.
Dorian’s Descent plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through July 20 at the MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Avenue, Los Angeles. Reservations can be made online or by calling (323) 802-4990.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B006TQUNX8]