Theater Review — ‘Maestro’

The Island Now

Review by Elyse Trevers

Actor John Noble is familiar from network television, having starred in “Fringe,” “Sleepy Hollow” and “Elementary.”

In the movies, he played Denethor in The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Now he is portraying “Maestro,” conductor Arturo Toscanini in the latter years of his life.

Toscanini is infatuated with a young married woman Ada, who is the same age as his daughter and has been writing her several letters. Their relationship plays out as events leading up to World War II begins to unfold.

The new play written by Eve Wolf begins with the conductor rehearsing with the NBC Symphony Orchestra which David Sarnoff created especially for him. The actor addresses the audience as if we are his musicians.

The background music consists of excerpts from actual rehearsals and recordings of Toscanini conducting Verdi’s “Aida.”

Accompanying Noble are six talented young musicians. The two violinists, viola, cello, trumpet players and pianist actually seem to have more stage time than Noble does.

While the musicians play, there are news items flashing along a neon scroll detailing Hitler and Mussolini’s advances. At the same time, the screens centerstage show some newsreels of actual historical events.

With the exception of “Rhapsody in Blue,” the music is given no introduction or framework. While the musicians perform pieces by Wagner, Verdi, Finzi and Martucci, it’s hard to see the connection between the musical selections and Toscanini since they are never explained or even introduced,

“Maestro” should have been the story of a passionate conductor, but it winds up being is a basic history lesson about World War II. Quite frankly, I knew little about Toscanini before seeing “Maestro” but didn’t learn much more after spending more than two hours at the Duke on 42nd Street watching the play.

The character explains how much he is opposed to Mussolini, Hitler and the Nazis, but the drama gives little actual evidence of it.

We do learn that he was in Palestine and was the first conductor of a refugee orchestra- the one that will ultimately become the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra.

The information in the Playbill gives far more insight into the man, especially his politics and how he helped people, than does the actual play itself.

I generally read the Playbill on the train ride home but, fortunately, began to read it during intermission. That was how I learned about how Toscanini fought against the Nazis and Fascists and helped a large segment of Jews in Europe.

If you plan to see “Maestro,” you might want to read about the conductor before you go. You will like “Maestro” better.

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