The last show I saw by Greg Pierce was Slowgirl, a sensitive two-person drama that lingered in the mind. The last show I saw involving John Kander was The Scottsboro Boys, a musical at off-Broadway’s Vineyard that managed to be both entertaining and politically provocative. Kander, who co-wrote Cabaret and Chicago, returns to the Vineyard now with The Landing, a collaboration with Pierce, who has replaced the late Fred Ebb as his musical collaborator.
The new partnership has reportedly revived Kander’s work ethic: he and Pierce have several projects in the pipeline. I hope they produce more polished results than The Landing, a 90-minute evening comprised of three scenarios that are occasionally fetching in their simplicity but sometimes border on pointlessness.
In Andra, the opener, the narrator, played by Pierce’s real-life uncle, the droll David Hyde Pierce of Frasier fame, sets the scene: “October. A house and a hill. Orange leaves spin off into the breeze.” An 11-year-old called Noah, who is tormented at school and studies calculus for edification, makes friends with Ben, a carpenter who instructs the boy in the pleasures of the night sky. Frankie Seratch gives Noah a touching loneliness, and Paul Anthony Stewart lends Ben an initial charm. But when Noah makes a discovery about Ben the playlet peters out.
The Brick, the middle section, transports us to Connecticut. Seratch is Darius, a hyperactive 12-year-old visiting his ultra-suburban Uncle Cliff and Aunt Charl, portrayed by the accomplished Julia Murney, the most under-utilised of the acting quartet here. Aunt Charl has a fondness for old gangster pictures, a predilection that leads her to buy a bloody brick from Al Capone’s 1929 St Valentine’s Day massacre. Kander’s music, with its combination of vaudeville jazziness and Sondheimian faux-simplicity, is at its weakest here, in spite of the clean orchestrations of Larry Hochman and yeoman work from a four-piece band.
“The Landing” completes the triad. It achieves moments of authentic feeling and rounds out the show eloquently. A gay couple, Denny and Jake, have just welcomed a foster son, Collin, to their flat on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The child is too perfect to be real: unbidden, he makes his bed. Like the other two playlets, “The Landing” contains moments of hyper-reality. But the fantasy theme is too weak to provide the musical with much cohesion.