Playwright: music & lyrics by Paul Bruce, book by Stephanie Masse and
Paul Bruce, based on the play by Alexandre Bisson
At: AlleyCat Productions at the Performing Arts Center, 777 N. Green
Phone: 312-733-6000; $40-$55
Runs through: Nov. 19
Nobody ever lost money recounting the story of a selfless wife and mother who stands by her undeserving men—in this case, a husband whose jealousy condemns her to a life of degradation and a son who believes her to be dead. Sarah Bernhardt created the title role of the woman 'more sinned against than sinning' at its 1910 premiere, but even so, Alexandre Bisson's weeper is chiefly known today through its many star-heavy cinematic versions.
So why does Paul Bruce, in putting the melody back into melodrama, seem to be having more fun in the second act of this AlleyCat Productions adaptation than in its first? Is it because the trial of the murderess who refuses to reveal her name ( dubbed 'Madame X' by the press ) promises action over exposition? Because our now-debased heroine is permitted to vocalize with fiery and unladylike passion? Because the unscrupulous villains are given playful tangos and soft-shoes, while the strait-laced gents continue to mimic singing heads?
What Stephanie Masse and the aforementioned Bruce's book needs is an up-tempo character song early in the first act to hint at the drama to come, as well as to provide relief from the clutter of Phantom-styled vox-pop choruses ( enlivened by Stacey Flaster's turbulent waltzes ) and sweet, but near-indistinguishable, sentimental ballads.
This is not to deny the capable craftsmanship reflected in the individual components comprising the show currently occupying the Performing Arts Center, especially as performed by a Herculean-voiced cast featuring Stéphanie Hammonds as the domestic derelict with the heart of gold and Kenneth Z. Kendall as the misguided spouse, along with David Tibble, Karl Hamilton and Jonathan Wagner as a trio of charming four-flushers.
Reaffirming La Dame Aux Camillias' plea for the victims of Victorian sexism ( 'The fallen man again may soar/but a woman falls to rise no more' runs the homily ) , Madame X celebrates the redemption ( albeit of the deathbed variety ) meted to those sisters corrupt of body, but pure in heart. Leave your feminist sensibilities at the door and don't forget to bring your hankies.