Review: ‘Hello Again’ Revisits the Sins of the Stage Version
By Christopher Caggiano, Contributing Writer, November 8, 2017
If you were to ask theater fans which musical they were most hoping to see turned into a film, it’s doubtful you would find anyone point to Hello Again, Michael John LaChiusa’s 1994 Off-Broadway succès d’estime. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of people who are even familiar with the show.
Hello Again borrows its central conceit from Arthur Schniztler’s 1897 play La Ronde. Each of the ten scenes features a different sexual coupling, with one person from each scene carrying over to participate in the next liaison, until we end up back where we began. The points seems to be that sex isn’t love, nor vice versa, but there’s really not much more to LaChiusa’s version than that.
Like much of LaChiusa’s stage oeuvre, Hello Again is one of those musicals that you admire as opposed to enjoy. It’s clever, to be sure, and there are many well-executed moments, but the show as a whole doesn’t really create much of an emotional or dramatic impact.
The film version of Hello Again, which opens this week at theaters across the country, ultimately revisits the sins of the stage version. The movie seems to think it has something trenchant to say about sexual abandon and promiscuity, but all it really seems to come down to is, “Gee, sex without love is pretty darned empty, isn’t it?”
In opening up the stage show for a cinematic treatment, director Tom Gustafson (Were The World Mine) crafts some deft transitions between the various rendezvous, and some imaginative cross-cutting between the scenes at hand and the television shows, motion pictures, and music videos that the various characters are watching or participating in. One rather odd touch in the movie is the decided lack of nudity. For a film about sex, Hello Again feels remarkably prudish about actually showing naked actors, just a few glimpses here and there of the male derrière.
The screenplay by Cory Krueckeberg (Were The World Mine) features more than its share of pretentious verbiage and stilted pronouncements. One character from a scene set in 1967 spouts the utterly un-1967 pronouncement that, “Love is a terribly confusing ordeal, isn’t it?”
The film gets off to a rather stilted start with its first two sexual pairings, but that could simply be the fault of Nolan Gerard Funk, whose acting ranges from the wooden to the somnambulant. Things really pick up when we get to T.R. Knight’s two scenes, one of which takes place on the sinking U.S.S. Titanic. Knight has such a palpably real screen presence that he can make even the most leaden of Krueckeberg’s dialogue feel natural.
Tyler Blackburn likewise brings a personable touch to the film as the steerage boy toy to Knight’s moneyed gentleman. Knight and Blackburn’s sex scene is also the most believable — and hottest — of all the sex scenes in the film.
Musical theater fans will likely be looking forward most to the two scenes featuring Broadway diva and six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald. Her first scene, however, in a recording studio with fellow theater stalwart Cheyenne Jackson, is fairy blunt and charmless. And the resulting song gives rise to a laughable music video that, even if it was supposed to be risible, kind of overshoots the mark. (Also, seeing the queen of modern musical theater receiving oral gratification on the large screen will likely seem, at the very least, jarring to her legion Broadway fans.)
Far more successful is the final coupling in the film, featuring McDonald as a sort of PR doyenne to the Washington elite and a wonderfully subtle and affecting Martha Plimpton as her senator client/lover. Musically, this is certainly the most successful of the scenes, with a song that aptly captures the whirlwind political world of the characters, as well as the dizzying nature of their love affair.
It’s frankly difficult to think of Hello Again appealing to anyone outside the theater community. It’s not as though the movie stands on its own as a masterful film, and LaChiusa’s songs are an acquired taste even for ardent musical theater fans. All of which doesn’t exactly bode well for the film’s chances at cinematic success.
Hello Again; Screenplay by Cory Krueckeberg; music and lyrics by Michael John La Chiusa; directed by Tom Gustafson. Cast: Audra McDonald, Martha Plimpton, Cheyenne Jackson, T.R Knight, Rumer Willis, Jenna Ushkowitz, Sam Underwood, Nolan Gerard Funk, Al Calderon and Tyler Blackburn.
This film will have a limited commercial release. For information on theaters where it is being shown click here.
Cover: Rumer Willis and Al Calderon in ‘Hello Again.’