Three short stories penned by Japanese author Ryu Akutagawa, See What I Wanna See is an interestingly brilliant and complex musical. The first short story, set in Medieval Japan, features two lovers who wish to escape a doomed relationship with a dangerous passionate act. The second story in 1951 sees a body discovered in Central Park and deals with the conflicting testimonies of how it appeared. The last, in New York 2002, features a priest wrestling his faith who creates a hoax miracle in Central Park with surprising results.
Performed by five actors, See What I Wanna See is thought-provoking, tender, funny and beautiful. The definitive modern musical, Michael John LaChiusa’s score is rich and musically challenging, giving it’s performers the ability to shine with some powerhouse vocals and tight harmonies. From performances to set and lighting, Aria Entertainment’s production goes over and above; perfectly hitting the nail on the head with every aspect.
Jermyn Street Theatre is a small intimate space and the decision to not mic the actors was inspired as it really drew the audience into each story. Performed in front of an ornate bamboo wall, all five actors gave excellent performances. It’s no small task to take on roles immortalised on cast recording by Idina Menzel, however Cassie Compton shone in all three roles. With stunning control she served the perfect mix of sultry mezzo-soprano belt, giving powerhouse vocals in solos and beautiful blending in ensemble numbers.
Marc Elliot offered an effortless performance in his two roles. Equal parts dangerous and human, his ‘A Thief’ gave the audience a glimpse of a desperate man while his ‘A Reporter’ showed the startling differences of life in front and behind the camera. Mark Goldthrop gave solid performances in his three roles, really encompassing each to create human characters the audience could easily connect with. Sarah Ingram performed with sophistication and grace, her ‘The Medium’ and ‘Aunt Moica’ were both funny and touching providing another chance for the audience to connect and identify with her characters and the overall show.
Jonathan Butterell was my stand out performer of the evening. Having musically staged the original Public Theatre production of the show in New York, an inspired casting for his two characters of ‘The Janitor’ and ‘The Priest’. Wrestling with his faith in the wake of the terror attacks on New York, Buterell’s Act Two character ‘The Priest’ in the story entitled ‘Gloryday’ was an inspired piece of acting. His powerful performance began with his broken priest sat almost in tears, surround by parishioners asking for answers and ended with the loss of a loved one, a life changing experience and his faith almost a-new. He ended the show with the question ‘What do I do with the truth?’ Does the truth really empower us or even matter? Or would we rather live with a lie, protecting ourselves to live in ignorant bliss?
Like director Adam Lenson, I too heard the Idina Menzel led cast recording and really wanted to see the musical staged. I commend him in creating a powerful challenging and beautiful production. As references to the terror attacks on New York were given throughout Act Two of the performance, I had to choke back tears as I realised it was in fact the anniversary of that fateful day. A challenging musical to produce, they have created an astounding work of modern musical theatre that I urge everyone to see.
Reviewed by Stuart James
See What I Wanna See is playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 3 October 2015. Click here to book tickets