Given the unparalleled, apparently unending success of “Les Miz,” it’s no surprise that other musicals based on classic novels, full of violence and romanticism, continue to pop up. For instance, six years ago, there was a terrible musical of “A Tale of Two Cities” which quickly flopped.
Now there’s “Doctor Zhivago,” based on Boris Pasternak’s lengthy 1957 Nobel Prize-winning epic about a good-natured, once wealthy medical doctor with a knack for writing poetry, who gets caught in the storm of the Russian Revolution during the early 20th century. It is best known for David Lean’s 1965 film adaptation.
This big-budget, large-scale musical has been directed by Des McAnuff, who is known for tech-savvy productions like “Tommy” and “Jersey Boys.” The score is by composer Lucy Simon (“The Secret Garden”) and lyricists Michael Korie (“Grey Gardens”) and Amy Powers.
As if the similarities to “Les Miz” weren’t obvious enough, there is a repeated visual motif of chairs stacked on top of each other, reminiscent of the “Les Miz” barricade sequence.
The musical is unexpectedly easy to follow despite heavy exposition, multiple character arcs and constant action. Although those familiar with the book may consider this adaptation to be a CliffsNotes version, achieving that kind of clarity is no small achievement.
The songs are soft and often moving. And while it’s admirable that the creators largely avoided bombastic gestures, it never captures the emotional agony and historical turbulence its characters confront. You come away with no sense of why “Doctor Zhivago” has been turned into a musical in the first place.
The lead actors are capable, but they turn in one-dimensional performances. Tam Mutu brings dashing looks to the title character but little else, and Paul Alexander Nolan (“Jesus Christ Superstar”) resembles just a rush of intensity. As the elusive Lara, beloved by all the men, Kelli Barrett is attractive but hollow.If you go:
If you go: “Doctor Zhivago” plays an open run at the Broadway Theatre. 1681 Broadway, DoctorZhivagoBroadway.com.