REVIEW: “Sincerely, Oscar” is sincerely painful
As the lyricist half of the beloved songwriting duo Rodgers and Hammerstein, Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960), one of musical theatre’s greatest dramatists, wrote a lot about dreams—“Out of My Dreams”, “You got to have a dream”, “I Have Dreamed”, the list goes on. Heck, he even wrote the musical “Pipe Dream”.
After sitting through the ambitiously subtitled “new musical” “Sincerely, Oscar” at Off-Broadway’s Theatre Row, I am reminded that a dream can also be a nightmare.
Imagine paying to watch someone perform karaoke or sing in their car. Add in a 3D hologram of Oscar Hammerstein (more on that later), and you get a sense of the cringe-inducing experience of seeing this ill-conceived, self-indulgent show that is meant to be a celebration of Hammerstein’s lyrics and the stories behind them, but ends up being not much more than a glorified cabaret act with a glaring lack of self-awareness.
“Sincerely, Oscar” is the dream/vanity project of Doreen Taylor, a self-described “Billboard Top 100 Recording Artist”, who wrote the book and sings most of the 28 songs. Apparently she worked with Hammerstein’s grandson to devise the piece, but you’d never know it from the spoken interludes—organized chronologically from “Show Boat” (1927) to “The Sound of Music” (1959)—that offer little illumination on Hammerstein’ biography or his process.
These borderline creepy scenes are bizarrely performed by a hologram of actor Bob Meenan as Hammerstein sitting at a table or else in a chair, produced by a clunky contraption housed centerstage that has the finesse quotient of one of those early animatronic attractions from the 1960s (you can literally hear the motor on the screen as it slowly pitches toward the audience, and in those uncomfortable moments, a part of me died). The production boasts it is the first to use this “IceMagic” technology. I hope it is the last.
Mr. Meenan sounds like a mafioso, belying Hammerstein’s own genteel and patrician disposition, but his is hardly the most offensive presence on stage. Dressed in a white satin gown paging the 1950s, Ms. Taylor barrels through a survey of the Hammerstein songbook delivering a cavalcade of dramatically inert, off-putting renditions that are rotely staged by director Dugg McDonough. Forget subtly or emotion, she has one mode, and it is self-love.
For a show about a lyricist, Hammerstein’s words themselves are beside the point in Ms. Taylor interpretations—a cruel irony. She is joined by Azudi Onyejekwe (“The Great Comet”) for a few duets—the two have zero chemistry, if not an undercurrent of hostility toward each other—but make no mistake, this is the Doreen Taylor show from start to finish.
As if to add insult to injury, nearly the entire playlist has been infused with an easy-listening, jazzy, or else lite-bossa nova aesthetic by musical director Lou Lanza and “string arranger” Joshua Godoy. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps the Hologram Hammerstein™ does. Whatever the case may be, this exercise in musical masturbation is easily one of the worst productions I have seen on a New York stage in recent memory—an insult to the memory of Oscar Hammerstein II.
Bottom Line: A tribute to Oscar Hammerstein is a wonderful idea, but “Sincerely, Oscar” is an ill-conceived, self-indulgent, cringe-inducing, glorified cabaret act that is easily one of the worst productions I have seen on a New York stage in recent memory. Skip it.
410 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
Running Time: 90 minutes (no intermission)
Opening Night: April 4, 2019
Final Performance: June 30, 2019