Arts movie review

The greatest of adventures

Hello Again’s examination of sexual encounters leaves much to be desired

8341 screen shot 2017 06 21 at 9.52.23 am
Cheyenne Jackson as The Writer (left) and Audra McDonald as The Actress (right).
Provided by Screenvision Media

Hello Again
Directed by Tom Gustafson
Screenplay by Cory Krueckeberg
Music by Michael John LaChiusa
Not Rated

Based off of Michael John LaChiusa’s 1994 musical adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, Hello Again features ten people engaging in a daisy chain of sexual affairs. Just as in LaChiusa’s adaptation, these encounters are scattered nonlinearly across the 20th century, with one vignette for each decade. By increasing the flexibility of time, space, and sexuality, LaChiusa created a lush score which sampled varying musical styles to great effect. As an adaptation of LaChiusa’s musical, the film succeeds greatly; quick, colorful cinematography illuminates LaChiusa’s score, which shines already from the film’s star-studded cast featuring stage talents such as Audra McDonald, Martha Plimpton, and Cheyenne Jackson. However, the inaccessibility of LaChiusa’s score and lack of a compelling message ultimately cause the experience to be somewhat unsatisfying.

The musical’s structure pairs characters together with each new character passing the baton to the next. For instance, the first vignette portrays The Whore seducing The Soldier in 1901 while the same young soldier woos The Nurse in the next scene set in 1944. Despite the nonlinear narrative, the characters still develop as if informed by their past life: the seduced become the seducer and attitudes change. Lyrics and leitmotifs pass on like a musical syphilis, the disease which influenced the creation of La Ronde. One such phrase is “the greatest of adventures of my life,” which describes one character’s receiving of oral sex in a movie theatre, another character’s view on marriage, and a third character’s reminiscence of her infidelity. These aspects of LaChiusa’s material provide fecund ground for analysis, explaining its appeal to diehard musical theatre fans while leaving others cold.

Hello Again is not completely devoid of comedy, however. LaChiusa’s score contains one of the few musical theatre songs about erectile dysfunction, and a humorously tacky music video accompanies “Beyond the Moon.” These elements help in maintaining the audience’s interest in the individual scenes and propel the plot forward.

As a musical, Hello Again is mostly sung-through and benefits from stunning vocals and performances by its cast. Sung live on set, LaChiusa’s music hits its apex with this production. McDonald, who recently received the 2018 McDermott award from MIT, gives some of the film’s highlights in “Mistress of the Senator” and communicating her character’s vulnerability. Equally impressive is T. R. Knight’s performance as The Husband, desperate to seduce a young crewman, and Plimpton’s performance as The Senator, completely convincing in her role as regretful politician prioritizing image. Major praise also belongs to Austin Schmidt, whose brilliant cinematography elevates songs such as “Tom” and “Montage / Safe / The One I Love” to new heights. These particular sections also benefit from interspersed memories of the characters, enhancing the emotional aspects of LaChiusa’s characters.                                                             

The biggest flaw in Hello Again is its utter lack of appeal to popular audiences. While LaChiusa’s score is brilliant, its atypical structure will disappoint viewers whose metric of a musical is how hummable the music is. The lack of a compelling overall message drives in another nail to the coffin; a story about the widespread nature of sex and the search for true satisfaction feels redundant in an age of public online hookups. The fact that only nine other people were in the theatre when I watched the film is perhaps the most damning testament to the material’s unpopularity. The situational irony of such a number did not escape me and only added to my discomfort as the scene depicting fellatio in a movie theatre began.

Perhaps the Herculean task of making musicals mainstream is best left to corporations such as Disney (Into the Woods) or songwriters such as Pasek and Paul (La La Land, Dear Evan Hansen, The Greatest Showman). In many ways, Hello Again does not remotely attempt such a feat, moreso echoing adaptations such as The Last Five Years. While this does not exculpate the source material of its ultimately vacuous story, the film remains a sterling adaptation of LaChiusa’s musical.