Coraline: A Review

Well, that was... interesting.

Coraline, recently a stop motion animation movie, but originally a book by Neil Gaiman has now also been adapted into a musical by Stephin Merritt of the band Magnetic Fields. The original book, as with most things Gaiman, is a quirky little piece about growing up and discovering who you really are, and monsters. The musical is made even quirkier by the fact that it is, for the most part, orchestrated on an entirely unorthodox collection of objects, ballons, styrofoam coolers, chopsticks, and toy pianos among them. The vast majority of the show is played on toy piano, and when a real piano is utilized it is in unconventional ways like plucking the strings, or brushing them with forms and steel brushes. The ensemble cast plays dozens of characters each, ranging from rats and mice to the human inhabitants of Coraline's world.

The story is epic, a young girl exploring two different worlds and meeting dozens of denizens of both, and the challenge is to move seamlessly between the locations and times. The set consists primarily of various deconstructed pianos scattered about or built into assemblages, and several doors. Doors play a big part in the story metaphorically, though the doors onstage are used only rarely. So the set itself doesn't really do much to add to the locale of the piece, most of that is accomplished by lighting shifts and the very clunky method of description. Nearly every scene is begun by Coraline announcing: "I am outside now." or "It's night now." Not exactly the most ideal way to carry a show.

Coraline herself is played by a much older woman which takes some mental acrobatics, at least for the first few minutes of the show. Some of the rest of the cast shine: Francis Jue for instance, especially when he is playing Miss Forcible the kindly spinster actress who lives next door. He and January LaVoy do a marvelous job as the actresses, and their scenes are some of the warmest and funniest in the show.

The show unfortunately never really reaches a destination. It lacks much in the way of suspense, which you need in a tale about a little girl fighting a demon, and all the songs seem interchangeable and sort of like outlines rather than actual songs. The rhymes comes off as forced and clunky, and vocals never really live up to the drama of the music being plunked out around the stage.

A good night of theatre, and I am happy to have seen it, but just not ready for the stage yet I'm afraid.

3 Response to "Coraline: A Review"

  • michelle Says:

    loved the book, so now i'm a little disappointed. is this something you don't care for, but in my ignorance, i'll love? - yes, i'm back.

  • Cully Says:

    The weaknesses weren't in the text of the book. The story is strong, and stays mostly consistent (they dropped the "other" Coraline was the only major difference I caught) the weaknesses were in the staging and unfortunately the music. Not the instrumentation, the lyrics.

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