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Open: 06/11/10- Close: 06/27/10 Wuthering Heights, A Romantic Musical
Reviewed for By: Heather Violanti

Jonathan Slaff ©2020  Jonathan Grunert as Heathcliff, Erin Wegner Brooks as Cathy.

PASSAJJ Productions goes “in the heights” for its current production, Wuthering Heights that is.  Their revival of Wuthering Heights, a musical adaptation of Emily Bronte’s novel by composer/lyricist/bookwriter Paul Dick runs through June 27.

Condensing Bronte’s vast novel into a musical just over two hours long is impressive, and frustrating.  There’s so much condensing it’s hard to follow.  Dick has boiled the material to its essential conflict—the doomed romance between aristocratic Cathy and stableboy Heathcliff—but unless you’ve read the book, you might get lost. Minor characters are underdeveloped.  Isabella, the girl Heathcliff seduces after Cathy marries his rival, for example, appears only briefly, while the man who initiates the whole story, Lockwood, is shuffled quickly offstage.  Plot points are rushed. Young Cathy and Heathcliff have no sooner declared their love then Heathcliff emerges sullenly in the next scene, having been beaten and berated by Hindley, Cathy ‘s jealous brother. (When did this happen?  What’s going on? And who’s that grumpy old servant lurking the background? , you might wonder, as I did, despite being a fan of the novel since seventh grade)   With such unpredictable gaps in time and patchy character development, a strange disconnect settles in. 

Jonathan Slaff ©2020  Jonathan Grunert as Heathcliff, Mollie Vogt-Welch as Isabella, Erin Wegner Brooks as Cathy, Eric Van Tielen as Edgar

Still, there are moments when the story’s bloody heart beats through, particularly in Cathy’s passionate Act One closer, “I Love Him” and Heathcliff’s declaration of undying love in “I Thought Only Of You.”  “Isabella’s Aria” in which Isabella sings of her loveless marriage to Heathcliff, is also affecting.

Director Matthew Gutschick does amasterful job in making the musical move, pushing through the disjointed scenes with cinematic fluidity. He and set designer Tim McMath set the musical on a nearly empty stage, with the rapid changes in location suggested by shifting panels.  The panels themselves are ugly and cheap-looking—bright red wood frames with muslin curtains—but their re-positioning instantly carves out distinct, new spaces for each location.

Dick’s score is beautiful and moody, with occasional nods to showtunes (Heathcliff’s weirdly jaunty “If I Were Edgar,” for example).  The lyrics don’t always measure up, however.  In the sentimental “Choose Love,” Nellie sings of love clumsily personified:   “Choose love/grab love by the shoulders whenever it comes your way/come what may.”

The cast are exceptionally fine singers, if not always polished actors.  Erin Wegner Brooks sings beautifully as Cathy, especially in her passionate rendition of “I Love Him,” but she hasn’t yet mined all the depths of Cathy’s anger and despair,. Jonathan Grunert is a dashing Heathcliff, if he's not quite the wounded soul Heathcliff needs to be.  Dawn Timm makes a pragmatic, earthy Nellie.  Her quiet despair shows remarkable subtlety, though even she can’t save the maudlin “Choose Love.” The accents vary widely from a watered-down Yorkshire for Nellie to a discordant American for Lockwood.

Nicole Pezzolla’s sumptuous costumes create the late eighteenth century with stunning detail (particularly the dazzling dresses of the wealthy women), but other than Heathcliff’s rags, they look a little too perfect, a little too new for these untamed hearts.  When Nellie chides Cathy for the smudge of dirt on her face, the tear in her hem, and her scraggly hair—it’s hard to believe, given Cathy is standing there in a pristine gown and shining locks.

Quibbles and confusion aside, this Wuthering Heights still pulls the odd heartstring.  The night I saw it, the audience gasped at key plot twists.  Centuries after it was written, and crammed into two hours, Bronte’s dark romance still manages to smolder.

Mint Theater : 311 West 43rd Street