Review by Jacquelin Hipes
Hollywood has had a lot of success, critical and commercial alike, mining Broadway for content over the years. While a strong effort from the cast and crew is essential, it can’t be denied that the best movie musicals pretty much all start out with stellar source material. So what happens when the inspiration is lackluster? In the case of Hello Again, one is left with a numbingly repetitive look at a century’s worth of unsatisfying sexual encounters that wears out its welcome before it ever settles in.
Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s play La Ronde, Hello Again follows a daisy-chain of encounters that span from 1901 to present day, one character from each scene progressing into the next with a new partner. Because the scenes don’t unfold in chronological order the only real connection between each vignette is a musical motif…and the crushing ennui suffered by each successive pair of participants. On display is a revolving door of misery, degree being the only variable. With no catharsis in sight, Hello Again quickly falls victim to the law of diminishing returns. You can only be beaten down by the message of man’s fundamental isolation for so many scenes before apathy or irritation inevitably sets in.
(It should also be noted that in the majority of these encounters, one person must persuade or cajole the other into intercourse. The musical premiered in 1993 and the filmmakers certainly can’t control current events, but nonetheless that behavior adds a considerable layer of discomfort when viewed in light of the recent accusations against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and others.)
The diverse ensemble have varying degrees of singing experience; some (Jenna Ushkowitz as the Nurse, Audra McDonald as the Actress) make the most of their appearances, while others fall resoundingly flat (Sam Underwood as the Whore, Nolan Gerard Funk as the Soldier). Minimal choreography accompanies the songs, and what little does occur suffers from so many jump cuts that no two consecutive steps are contained in the same shot.
Ultimately, however, no vocal talent or flashy dance moves can distract from the sub-par material at the foundation of Hello Again. Schnitzler’s play wasn’t performed until 1920, twenty years after its publication. Attitudes towards sex differ greatly between then and now, making the intimate encounters across social boundaries feel much less transgressive now than they did at the turn of the 20th century. Even when minor tweaks to the original story or conscious casting decisions create couples who are not exclusively heterosexual and white, those changes feel expected, or even overdue. Hello Again wants to shock and provoke with its dour outlook; instead it bores. If only art had better imitated life, intermixing gratifying relationships in with those less so, it could have added a great deal more poignancy to both.
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