A Cautionary Tale: An Attempt to Stage a New Musical About Dorian Gray

The Devil made her do it: Toni Smith in ‘Dorian’s Descent.’

This is my original review of Dorian’s Descent, a show based on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, that was produced a few years ago in Hollywood.

I’d been covering the productions of the now-defunct DOMA Theater Company for several years before, and had usually appreciated its ambitious stuff. The company’s stagings of Pippin, Tommy — and especially American Idiot, were terrific.

They got a little too big for their britches with this original work that they decided to launch for the 2014 Hollywood Fringe, however. It was — well, pretty much a mess. Mind you, they operated their PR and advertising machines like crazy, expecting a big splash, but instead they got a big splat.

Dorian’s Descent received so much critical drubbing in its premiere that the company blocked reviewers from seeing it until it could be retooled. Unfortunately for them, I was one of the critics who slipped in under the wire on the first night.

I don’t want to dim your creative inspiration by any means, but I’m republishing this review in the hopes that it will continue to provide ambitious San Antonio theater folk with some guidance — and a dire warning: “Too much is too much.”

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2014 REVIEW

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 his 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.

Dorian and James struggle for the keylight.

In Dorian’s Descent, the musical version of the story that made 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 incredibly 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 the aforementioned popular Broadway scores, 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 must be an opera, with so much music, but no — 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.

When all else fails, get into a ballgown/mermaid costume.

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.

It’s like Grand Central Station in drag.

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.

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