The cast of Previn and Stoppard’s ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.’

(Dateline: Garden Grove! I came close to meeting and interviewing André Previn, who passed away yesterday at 89, several times in my career, including standing across the aisle from him when I worked at Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. in the 1980s. I reviewed and wrote about him many times, though, including this review below, penned for the Los Angeles Times when I was a relative youngster. Judged by the length of the review, it only appeared in the OC edition of the Times, which means it is being read my millions for the first time now. Well, uh, many. Anyway, it’s a good play and a good piece — orchestras should still consider it for a different type of program — and it was a most unusual evening, directed by and starring the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. TM)

MUSIC / STAGE REVIEW : A Starry Staging of ‘Every Good Boy’
GARDEN GROVE — “He has an identity crisis,” says the doctor. “I can’t remember his name.”

The doctor is speaking of one Alexander Ivanov, a patient in a Soviet mental hospital, a lunatic triangle player with a symphony orchestra in his head. In Tom Stoppard’s play “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour,”–with music by Andre Previn, an orchestra sits onstage with Ivanov, and we hear what he hears (even if none of the other characters does).

A new production of the play at the Don Wash Auditorium in Garden Grove Saturday brought out an unlikely cast: the crew of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

Patrick Stewart, who plays Capt. Picard in the TV series and who took part in the original London performances of “Good Boy,” was making his directorial debut and enlisted fellow “Trek” cast members Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden and Colm Meany. It proved a very strong ensemble.

The orchestra was the rough and ready Orange County Symphony, led by its music director, Edward Peterson. The musicians surrounded the center stage and through the clever scenario became a virtual seventh character.

Stoppard’s play (unlike his existential tour de force “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”) sets out the action clearly. It’s the late 1970s. In the ward with Alexander Ivanov is yet another Alexander Ivanov, this one a perfectly sane political dissident, sent there for writing letters of protest to the government.

Through a series of scenes by turns hilarious, poignant and powerful, we learn the histories of the two Ivanovs, what brought them to the hospital/prison, and what keeps them there.

We follow their visits to the psychiatrist’s office. We see political dissident Ivanov’s son being indoctrinated in school. Through it all, Stoppard’s dialogue bubbles over with wit, projects strong protest, and captures the slippery nature of duty to one’s self, one’s family and one’s political beliefs.

Previn’s music serves as moody underpinning to and interlude between scenes. More important, it is the music that haunts lunatic Ivanov’s consciousness. We know that the doctor is going to have trouble convincing Ivanov that there is no orchestra when we see and hear the doctor’s movements from Ivanov’s point of view: the chortling bassoon during his walk, the glissing trombone as he puts his arms into the sleeves of his smock, the plop of the tuba as he is seated at his desk.

The music sparkles with energy, wit and sinister color. Like other Previn scores, this sounds very much like some long-lost piece by Shostakovich or Prokofiev–which is just fine because it happens to be a very good long-lost piece, and the Soviet idiom fits the play.

Spiner turned out the perfect lunatic Ivanov, a gentleman who turns irate and dangerous at the ineptitude and insistence of his orchestra. Stewart provided a dryly witty, aptly laissez-faire doctor. Frakes portrayed an iron-jawed dissident. John Cristian Graas was solid and confident as the son Sacha. In smaller parts, McFadden and Meany offered a sharply defined teacher and colonel, respectively.

Peterson and orchestra gave a brave, propulsive account of the score, enthusiastic and bright, occasionally scrappy but impressively projected.

Faced with Stoppard/Previn’s 1 hour, 10-minute play, Peterson evidently felt obliged to provide a purely musical first half. Well rehearsed readings of Bernstein’s “Candide” Overture and Weill’s “Little Threepenny” Suite revealed the orchestra in tight, nicely tuned ensemble. Still, one missed something of the raucous edge to “Candide,” and a feeling of the utter decadence and ricky-ticky cabaret style in the “Threepenny” music.