Pittsburgh City Paper – For its 100th production, Quantum Theatre mounts an unconventional, intimate musical following the lives of Russian Jewish painter Marc Chagall (Dan Mayhak) and his wife Bella (Zanny Laird), a writer. The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk (The Chagall Musical), with a book by Daniel Jamieson and music by Ian Ross, follows the couple from meeting in their hometown of Vitebsk, Russia (now Belarus), through their travels in Europe and the United States as they build a life for themselves and find their place in the world.
The production coincides with Violins of Hope, a traveling exhibition of instruments rescued from the Holocaust, now on view at Carnegie Mellon University’s Posner Center.
The musical play, now running through Sun., Nov. 26 at Rodef Shalom Congregation, depicts Chagall’s struggle to find recognition in his home country of Russia, and how his creative ambition and commitment to the October Revolution of 1917 strained his relationship with his wife, Yiddish poet Bella Rosenfeld Chagall. Chagall addresses the audience from a future in which Vitebsk no longer exists, after being leveled in the destruction of World War II, and recalls the trajectory of his first love with Bella.
The pace of the action can be plodding, as is often the case with memory plays, but the cast, musicians, and creative team make up for it with their rich attention to detail and emotional commitment.
The multilevel set by Stephanie Mayer-Stanley transforms the stage into one of Chagall’s canvases (it’s worth mentioning that Chagall was once a set painter for the Russian Jewish theater), as the artist’s paintings are projected on a layered, textured white background, drenching the entire play space in vibrant color. Above the audience, a violin, a pair of butterfly wings, and a floral bouquet are suspended on horizontal wires, which, along with staging and choreography by director Gustavo Zajac, seek to emulate the floating subjects of Chagall’s most famous works.
The score depends heavily on Yiddish folk songs, nigunim (Jewish spirituals sung by groups), and wordless melodies. Providing live musical accompaniment are music director Douglas Levine, Cara Garofalo, and Lenny Young, all of whom don costumes at different moments to help propel the story. The band, along with Laird’s beautiful, clear, piercing upper vocal register, effectively fills the Rodef Shalom with a gorgeous sound.
Colorful design immerses audiences into the world of Marc and Bella Chagall’s journey, romance, and imagination, as the music brings The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk fully to life.