‘Passion’ or — Objects! The Musical?

A Sondheim musical? Based on an Italian movie? Count me in!

Or should that be “Let me out!” because Sondheim and Lapine’s ‘Passion’ (1994) simply does not work. It’s easy to see that it doesn’t but the tricky part is figuring out exactly why.

Maybe it’s because the story is simple, creepy and weird? Milan 1863, and a dashing, yet profoundly dull, army Captain, Giorgio, is transferred away from his married mistress and stationed to a remote outpost where a sickly, ugly, pathetic (we know she’s ugly and pathetic because she has a mole) woman named Fosca dwells with the troops. Fosca falls in love (stalks) Giorgio and Giorgio spends the rest of the musical constantly telling Fosca that he loves another whilst Fosca spends the rest of the musical ignoring Giorgio completely so carries on throwing herself at him and I spent the rest of the musical throwing my hands in the air with exasperation.

Or maybe it’s the music which, even more so than usual for Sondheim, exists within a very narrow emotional and sonic range so although there’s complexity here as the music weaves about itself it rarely threatens emotional catharsis or release. I’m not saying the music is awful but I certainly came out of ‘Passion’ whistling the better tunes I’d had playing inside my head during it instead (“All I Need Is a Miracle” by Mike and The Mechanics).

Or maybe it’s because dashing Caption Giorgio looks like a cross between Prince Charming and Will Ferrell, a cipher of ridiculously perfect yet utterly inert masculinity with distractingly curly hair, nothing more than an object Fosca can throw herself at.

Or maybe it’s Fosca herself who, if viewed through a certain lens, could easily be interpreted as a hideous portrayal of women as manipulative and needy? I was certainly hoping she would die on an almost constant basis, mostly for her own benefit as well as the audience’s.

Or maybe it’s because there isn’t a single moment of genuine levity or humour in ‘Passion’, just an unrelentingly turgid melodrama with arpeggios? Hang on, that’s not quite right as I was laughing my ass off plenty during this but that was at the heavy-handed clashing of subject matter and format (I’m not sure Sondheim and Italian 19th Century literature mix). There also some hilariously over-ripe lines about love and longing here, and when Giorgio has a climatic Darth Vader ‘Revenge of The Sith’(2005) “NOOOOO!!!!” moment I almost fell off my chair in hysterics.

‘Passion’s not all bad though as there’s some very nice and effective lighting and even if the story is dramatically leaden the way the relationship dynamics are teased out and explored is sensitive and subtle, even if these are unsubtle emotions.

Yet overall ‘Passion’ is incredibly bland. It’s almost as though Sondheim burst into a Broadway production office excitedly shouting “I’ve got a radical new idea for a musical that’s never been done before! Get this — One that contains ZERO entertainment! Nothing entertaining happens at all at ANY point during it. How’s that for an original idea?!”

Taken that way, ‘Passion’ is an unqualified success.