Old Wicked Songs Review

Old Wicked Songs, written and directed by Jon Marans, kicks off the year at GableStage with an intimate two-man play wrapped in secrecy, joy and sadness.

Stephen Hoffman (Teddy Warren) is a burned out prodigy pianist in search of his mojo in 1986, Vienna. He is assigned to Professor Joseph Mashkan (Keith Baker), a lonely vocal coach with deep, dark secrets veiled by hateful and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

The play, like life, whether you’re old, or young, happy or sad, is very much about storytelling.

Do we tell our stories? And to whom? And when exactly?

Do people even want to hear them?

Music in Old Wicked Songs

Central to the play’s themes are the music of German composer Robert Schumann, a classical pianist whose work often combined literary ideals, as he was very much a writer as well. Specifically, his composition “Dichterliebe” or “Poet’s Love” based on the poetry of German playwright Henreich Heine.

It’s a beautifully haunting composition consisting of 18 songs. Have a listen here.

Old Wicked Songs Review

Meanwhile, back in Coral Gables, theatergoers will be treated to a 120-minute emotional drama filled with beautiful music and intense acting. At times, perhaps, maybe the acting is too intense.

A piano has 12 major scales, which provides range and drama, and the Hoffman character, played by Teddy Warren, slides through almost as many moods as a piano has scales.

This could be seen as intentional, but it also could feel like the Hoffman character is simply over-acting.

The acting feels herky-jerky in both movement and emotional state.

At times to a point of being overbearing.

Casting a regionally produced play featuring two actors whom are both classically trained pianists, one could imagine, is challenging. It might be too much to ask that they are both great musicians and great actors. We can say for sure that they both are great musicians.

The other flaw in Old Wicked Songs is the pace of the play.

Act I lasts about 75 minutes and to be honest, not much happens, plot wise, or with character development, even musically. After a fifteen-minute intermission, Act II quickly picks up the pace with plot, reveals of secrets and emotional resonance. The play indeed lands its ending, offering some redemption, it’s just a little too long and a little too late.

Side notes

There’s an interesting zeitgeist happening in Miami’s drama community around anti-Semitism and music, specifically pianos. In addition to Old Wicked Songs at GableStage, Zoetic Stage is also premiering Wicked Child, a world premier play examining what it means to identify as Jewish.

Two wicked’s in two different plays. Knock on cultural wood.

And then next week, Miami New Drama is premiering Nilo Cruz’s Two Sisters and a Piano.

More piano.

Stay in tune, Miami.

Let’s hope 2024 is a great year, culturally.

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J.J. Colagrande

Has written about Miami culture for twenty years, first with The Miami Herald, then Miami New Times and Huffington Post. He's the publisher of The Jitney and a full-time professor at Miami Dade College.