There is danger in setting a dream play to music: specifically, that the score will take its mission to heart and lull its audience to sleep. Blue Roses, a world premiere musical adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, is so cloaked in sadness and reverie that the story ends up fragmented rather than enhanced.
Nancy Ford and Mimi Turque’s score starts oddly, with a jaunty number sung by Tom Wingfield (Duke Anderson) explaining that not only might his recollections about his family be exaggerated, but that everybody will be singing. It’s a bewildering tone, considering that Tom is about to share the events that led to him abandoning his mother and sister. From there, the tunes mellow into a continuous loop, each song blurring into the next with little distinction or purpose. “One Sunday Afternoon,” “I Remember,” “I Saw Him in a Dream Last Night”—good luck remembering the melody or lyrics to any of them.
Broadway actress Sally Mayes brings a manic flightiness to her Amanda Wingfield, an approach that mainly comes across as charming rather than elegantly repulsive. The sharp edges of Amanda’s degrading words toward her disabled daughter, Laura, and her desperate clinginess toward Tom are softened by the music, turning the fading Southern belle into a fluttering bit of fun. Only at the end—through words and not song—does she morph into the gentile monster that we should have glimpsed throughout.
Laura Lites, however, beautifully embodies the painfully shy Laura from the start. Tremulous and bashful, with a limp that’s only truly noticeable when she’s self-conscious, her Laura is every bit the fragile glass unicorn. There’s also a tinge of dangerous unpredictability when she panics upon learning that the longed-for gentleman caller (Kyle Cotton) her brother has brought home is, in fact, her high school crush. She’s like an animal caught between fight or flight, with neither option delivering a particularly fortuitous outcome.
Randel Wright’s haunting set creates an intriguing juxtaposition between real and imagined, with gauzy sheets ascending to approximate a home filled with solid, if tired, furnishings. Julie N. Simmons’ delicate lighting and Ryan Matthieu Smith’s detailed costumes further the real-or-not atmosphere.
Ambition is certainly apparent with Blue Roses, as is the desire to capture and recreate what Williams already perfected. When robbed of the emotional weight found in the revered script, the musical result feels like little more than a catnap.