La Ronde has a lot to answer for. Arthur Schnitzler’s classic play depicting a series of interconnected sexual liaisons has been adapted innumerable times since its 1920 premiere. It also has inspired an equally countless number of film, theater and literary works, including Michael John LaChiusa’s 1993 musical that debuted at Lincoln Center. That work has now been adapted into a film version directed by Tom Gustafson featuring an array of veteran theater talents. But while Hello Again has been brought to the big screen, it has not been brought to anything resembling cinematic life. The movie does, however, offer the novelty of seeing Audra McDonald singing while simultaneously being orally pleasured. Whether that’s worth the price of admission is a personal decision.
Like the show, the film scripted by Cory Krueckeberg presents a series of vignettes, 10 in all, depicting amorous encounters taking place over different decades of the 20th century. One performer from each scene appears in the next, often as a character similar to the one they’ve just played.
This musical doesn’t sing.
That the individual segments aren’t very impactful is putting it mildly. Some, such as the 1920s-set one in which Rumer Willis plays a married woman who enjoys a liaison with a younger lover in a movie theater, or the disco-era scene featuring Cheyenne Jackson as a music producer who does more than tweak knobs for his singer and lover (McDonald), are mildly engaging. But others are risible, such as the segment set on the Titanic — yes, the Titanic — in which T.R. Knight plays a closeted first-class passenger who doesn’t tell his male lover from steerage that the ship is sinking, just so that they can enjoy a quickie before it does. Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” will never sound the same again.
There are some impressive performances. McDonald, who also plays the lover of a female senator (Martha Plimpton, who also appears in the film’s ineffective framing device), not only acts but sings up a storm, especially in the pastiche music video featuring a new number, “Beyond the Moon,” written especially for the movie. Plimpton is impressive as always, and there are striking turns by Sam Underwood as a cross-dressing prostitute and Jenna Ushkowitz as a particularly solicitous home healthcare aide.
But the performers’ fine acting and vocal efforts (the film is almost entirely sung-through) are not enough to compensate for the vacuousness of the material. What worked fairly well onstage feels contrived and artificial onscreen, with the intended titillation coming across as merely silly. And while LaChiusa’s diversely styled score has been widely lauded over the years, to these ears (and I suspect, many others) it sounds wan and unmemorable
The film looks better than it sounds, benefiting from Austin F. Schmidt’s gorgeous cinematography, Annie Simeone’s lush production design and Rebecca Luke’s costumes evocatively conveying the different time periods depicted.
Lacking the accessibility that has driven such recent screen musicals as La La Land to box-office heights, Hello Again is strictly for the most avid musical theater geeks.
Production companies: SPEAKproductions, Martian Entertainment
Cast: Martha Plimpton, Sam Underwood, Nolan Gerard Funk, Jenna Ushkowitz, Al Calderon, Rumer Willis, T.R. Knight, Tyler Blackburn, Cheyenne Jackson, Audra McDonald
Director: Tom Gustafson
Screenwriter-editor: Cory Krueckeberg
Music: Michael John LaChiusa
Producers: Hunter Arnold, Ash Christian, Tom Gustafson, Cory Krueckeberg,
Executive producers: Carl Daikeler, Sig De Miguel, Sandi Moran, Stephen Vincent, Stephanie Yankwitt
Director of photography: Austin F. Schmidt
Production designer: Annie Simeone
Costume designer: Rebecca Luke
Casting: Sig De Miguel, Stephen Vincent