Review - David S Kelly

'Out Of The Blue' may have had a disappointingly short run, at the Shaftesbury Theatre, but it will be remembered fondly by many, myself included, who were moved by it's intensity, passion and evocative score. This was not another light, meaningless evening's entertainment; but a show which sought to treat a difficult; and emotive, subject in such a way as to generate empathy and an understanding of the messages underlying the plot.

The untimely closure can be largely attributed to poor attendances and advances, which in turn can probably be explained by two major factors; the lack of a major advertising campaign and the mixed initial critical response to the production. Having said this the 'word of mouth', being spread by those who had seen the show, was, in the most part extremely positive and, it may be that, a longer run would have allowed such 'word of mouth' to create the audiences this production deserved.

The company, assembled for this production, must rank as one of the finest companies assembled for a musical production in recent years. Both the leading cast members, and the ensemble, were of outstanding quality.

Meredith Braun gave a stunning performance, as Hideko, combining fine acting abilities with her glorious voice. The contrast between the vibrancy and power she portrayed, in the POW camp scene; and the image of the tender, caring terminally ill, young wife and mother; was incredible to behold. She sang wonderfully, making the most of the opportunities with which the score provided her. Indeed some of the charming and poignant melodies, and lyrics, could have been penned with her talents, specifically, in mind. No-one could fail to empathise with, or be moved by, her portrayal of Hideko. It is, not lightly, suggested that she is the greatest young talent on the musical stage at the present time.

Greg Ellis, as voung John Marshall, made the perfect foil to Ms. Braun's Hideko. He played the part of the young husband perfectly. His fine tenor voice was beautifully suited to the lifting melodies the score delivered up for him. He and Ms. Braun sang, and acted, particularly well together. Indeed, I cannot imagine a better pairing for these two roles.

Michael McCarthy made a splendid Dr. Akizuki. He showed a calm stage presence and his character seemed to hold the plot together, moving from scene to scene. I found myself wishing there were more major opportunities for him to sing, either solo or in ensemble, as he possesses a magnificent voice. He managed, admirably, to convey Akizuki as a reserved, compassionate and kind figure, which seemed to be exactly what the part required.

Simon Burke underlined the talent, known perhaps best to Australian audiences, which he possesses in full measure. His young Hayashi was at times obstructive, impassioned and powerful and yet, in contrast, in the scene with Hideko, where they recall their childhood, reflective and innocent. As usual Mr Burke was in fine voice, as young Hayashi.

James Graeme gave a somewhat pensive, and reflective, Father Marshall; which seemed to be exactly what the part called for. He did, however, convey Marshall's fears, and inner turmoil, perfectly; leaving no-one in any doubt as to his character's feelings, throughout the show. His agonised grief, as he observed the flashbacks, of his character's past, seemed deeply genuine; and lent humanity to his characterisation. This again was a performance of rare quality.

Paulette Ivory sang well, as Hana, and made the most of her two solos. She has a pleasant voice and sang well both solo and in her scenes with the other characters; particularly the final meeting with Marshall, Hayashi and Akizuki.

David Burt, as the elder Hayashi, did not have the largest part. Again more opportunities for him to show his well-honed talents would not have gone amiss. He was, however, the epitome of the angry and demanding elder Hayashi the production called for. His contribution to the final matinee performance showed, also, his rare comic genius.

The ensemble played the minor roles, required for the production, and combined to produce a choir which, in the many opportunities they had to sing together, produced music worth listening to in it's own right. Born again, and surpassed, was the grandeur of the finest choral moments of'Chess'and'Les Miserables'. The idea of the use of a choral inter-linking of elements of the plot also worked exceptionally well.

'Out Of The Blue' was conceived by, and it's score composed by, Shun-Ichi Tokura; one of Japan's leading contemporary composers. The libretto was by Paul Sand. The production was directed by David Gilmore, who is also credited with the development of the initial concept.

The score is, perhaps, the strongest feature of this basically through-sung musical The blend of traditional Japanese music with a more contemporary westem style works exceptionally well. The melodies are incorporated into some lovely, tender numbers and the mixture of solo, duet, ensemble and choral numbers give a fine natural balance to the score.

There are a number of highlights in the score; not least'Only Believe'. This is perhaps the show's main theme and evolves throughout the musical. It is sung as a powerful anthem, by Hideko, in the POW camp scene and forms the basis of an ensemble, featuring most of the main characters, which leads into the finale -'Eve@ng We Dream Of sung by the entire company. The combination of the ensemble into the finale are perhaps one of the most intense, and emotionally powerful, endings to a musical; ever written. They were, for me, the finest moments of the show.

There are three outstanding first act duets. 'You Are All I See', sung by Hideko and Young Marshall, is a finely crafted romantic duet of the highest order; which was enchantingly performed bv Meredith Braun and Greg Ellis. Ms. Braun and Simon Burke, together, gave Hideko's and Hayashi's childhood memories tender life, through 'on Your Side'. Michael McCarthy and Meredith Braun also combined with the touching and poignant'Something To See Me Through', as Hideko asks Akizuki for help in overcoming the pain of her progressing sickness.

Hana has a lovely solo, 'Let Me Go', early in the first act. The other solos of note are Father Marshall's, 'What Can I Hope For ?', which was splendidly delivered by James Graeme to open the second act, and Dr Akizuki's troubled and questioning 'What Must I Do ?', which proved to be a showcase for Michael McCarthy's fine talents.

Here are a number of other musical moments, which are, worthy of mention. In particular, I will always remember Hideko's 'I'll Be There In Spirit'; which Meredith Braun sang with such appropriate haunting tenderness. This again, for me, was one of the outstanding moments of the production.

The staging was somewhat sparse; yet I felt that this did not detract from the production; as it seemed, to be so appropriate. The main thrust of the production was the interaction of the characters and over-staging, or gimickry, could only have deflected one from focusing on this aspect.

I will remember'Out Of The Blue'as one of the most intense, and powerful, musicals ever written. The production had some truly wonderful moments, and one of the greatest casts it will ever be my privilege to see perform. There are plans to release an original cast recording and I would, unreservedly, recommend to anyone that thev buy the recording and let the music, and the performances of the cast, convince them of these facts; which are, in themselves, the lasting testament this production deserves.

In the light of the almost universal panning that Out Of The Blue receive@ frcin the critics I felt that an opportunity had to be given for someone to say something in its defence and on behalf of those readers who did enjoy it.

Thanks to David for permission to reproduce this review

The stage - Peter Hepple

Sadly, heading for oblivion

Seldom can a musical have started with so little advance publicity than this Japanese piece. If the producers, also Japanese, believed that the subject matter would turn off British audiences they were quite right. Despite a noble theme, the forgetting of racial differences in the aftermath of war, Out of the Blue is strangely inert.

In style, it reminds me of one of those concept albums of the seventies, in which singers from all parts of the record industry were marshalled to do something significant, the inevitable result being the albums were forgotten as soon as they were released.

Out of the Blue sounds to me as if it will suffer the same fate, yet it is well satged by David Gilmore, and towards the end at least, quite moving.

The plot, completely sung through, is simple. An American atholic priest, who has married a Japanese girl after the war and lost her to radiation sickness, returns to Nagasaki becasue he has learned that their daughter, whom he believed to be dead, is alive and working in a hospital run by Dr Akizuki, who had treated Father Marshall for his war wounds. there is the expected reconcilliation at the end, though these moving moments owe little to Paul Sand's libretto, which manages to be both trite and banal.

The sining of Shun-Ichi Tokura's music is decently accomplished, particularly by James Graeme as the priest, David Burt as his brother in law and Paulette Ivory as the daughter. Meredith Braun's doomed wife is aslo well done, but she is far too healthy and strong voiced for a dying woman

Excerpt of interview with Meredith Braun
Closing article in the Stage