The Game, A Musical Version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses
at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Marquise de Merteuil – Rachel York
Vicomte de Valmont – Graham Rowat
Cecile de Volanges – Sarah Stevens
Chevalier Danceny – Chris Petuso
Madame de Rosemonde – Joy Franz
Madame de Volanges – Christianne Tisdale
Directed by Julianne Boyd
Music, Megan Cavallari
Book and Lyrics, Amy Powers and David Topchik
Scenic Designer, Michael Anania
Costume Designer, Jennifer Moeller
Lighting Designers, Jeff Croiter and Grand Yeager
Music Direction, Darren Cohen
Diabolical. That’s how the Monthly Review labeled Choderlos de Laclos’s novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses when it was first published in England in 1784. Two years earlier, when it debuted in France, the novel in letter form sold out its first printing of 2,000 copies in two weeks. Nearly two hundred and thirty years later this story of sexual and emotional manipulation continues to fascinate audiences as much in performance as it does on the page.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses has been dramatized numerous times for the stage and screen. It has been an opera and a ballet. This August the original 2003 Barrington Stage musical version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses was revived in a new production at the Barrington Stage in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Its ironic and fitting title is “The Game.” All the players and innocent bystanders lose. We, the members of the audience, are the only winners.
The perpetrators in this game of manipulation and control are the Vicomte de Valmont (Graham Rowat) and the Marquise de Merteuil (Rachel York), aristocrats with too little to do. To avenge a former lover who has discarded her, Merteuil conspires with Valmont to seduce her former lover’s fiancée, the teenage Cecile de Volanges (Sarah Stevens), recently out of a convent and in love with her music teacher, Chevalier Danceny (Chris Petuso). Valmont, thinking such a seduction too easy, proposes that he seduce the pious and married Madame de Tourvel (Amy Decker) as well. The prize for seducing Tourvel, Valmont can spend the night with the beautiful Merteuil.
Merteuil is as adept at manipulating Valmont as he is at seducing Cecile and Madame de Tourvel. What neither counted upon was the depth of their own emotions. Valmont believes he has fallen in love with Tourvel. Merteuil orders him to leave her. They ruin their own lives as well as those of their targets. In the end, Tourvel becomes ill and dies. Valmont is killed by Danceny in a duel. Cecile spends the rest of her life in a convent and (in the book) Merteuil gets smallpox and loses her main weapon, her beauty.
Like A Little Night Music, The Game is all about its principal characters; there is only a small ensemble. Its strength is in the individual performances. Rachel York is powerful as Merteuil. She commands the stage with strong acting and a big voice. Amy Decker is extremely effective and sympathetic as Tourvel. While Graham Rowat is convincing as Valmont and has a fine voice, his presence is a bit bland, not equal to either York or Decker. One wishes that his portrayal were larger and more sinister. Alan Rickman played Valmont in the West End and on Broadway in Christopher Hampton’s play. Rowat could have used a bit of Rickman’s built-in sneer. Sarah Stevens and Chis Petuso attractively portrayed the youthful impetuousness of their characters, although Stevens was sometimes too flighty vocally. In supporting roles Joy Franz as Madame de Rosemonde, Valmont’s aunt, and Christianne Tisdale as Madame de Volanges, Cecile’s mother, gave strong performances.
The score—music by Megan Cavallari and Lyrics (and Book) by Amy Powers and David Topchik—while melodic and appropriate to the emotions and actions of the characters was not particularly memorable, although there was a large variation of song styles—solos, duets, trios, and even a quintet, all well-sung. The standout was “My Sin” sung with painful intensity by Decker. Darren Cohen led a capable orchestra of six musicians.
The late 18th century French costumes by Jennifer Moeller were sumptuous and elegant. (How did the actresses manage to sing in those form-fitting corsets that squeezed and pushed up their breasts?) The sets by Michael Anania were simple and spectacular at the same time. With perfectly chosen elements for each of the twenty-three scenes—chandeliers, trellises, a Fragonard-style painting, and the often-used bed—Barrington Stage showed once again that minimum budget need not be a limitation. Even the set changes carried out by the production staff and some actors appeared graceful in silhouette. The consistently effective lighting design was by Jeff Croiter and Grant Yeager.
Julianne Boyd was the director of this enjoyable musical. She is also the founder and artistic director of the 16-year-old Barrington Stage Company. The summer of 2011 has been an extraordinary season for them beginning with the perfect production of Guys and Dolls. Boyd consistently mounts first-rate productions in her small gem of a theatre in this small, Western Massachusetts city. Attend with high expectations.