Based on the novel by Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago is a powerful musical accompanied by an intricate set and stellar performances. Directed by Des McAnuff, director of Jersey Boys, the musical follows the life of Yuri Zhivago (Anthony Warlow), a doctor with poetic tendencies born and raised as part of Russia’s aristocracy. Set at the beginning of World War I, Russia is on the brink of revolution when Zhivago has a chance encounter with the feisty young Lara (Lucy Maunder) after she attempts to assassinate her unwilling-lover Komarovsky (Bartholomew John) at Zhivago’s engagement party.
The scenes quickly move on to the Russian battlefields, as the once mighty Czar’s army falls while Zhivago is busily tending to wounded soldiers on the frontline. As fate would have it, Lara appears working as an army nurse in an attempt to find her runaway husband, Pasha (Martin Crewes). The two fall for each other despite their spouses, which made for several numbers preaching the control true love has over the individual.
Once the war is over and the pair return to their real lives, the play really breaks its stride. There are several changes in scenery and location, but McAnuff successfully navigates his way through the 20 years of Russian history without confusion. Honorable mentions go to his pared-back explanation of Marxism in Russia, making it easy for any ill-equipped audience member to understand.
Although this production lacked the luster that comes from being an up-beat musical show, it still held its own in the entertainment arena. Though it was without the razzle-dazzle of other musicals, the beautiful and ever-changing sets managed to inject life into the performance.
American composer Lucy Simons proved herself a stellar composer, creating opportunities for Warlow to flaunt his booming voice while allowing other performers equal time to shine as the play progressed. The only criticism one could have of the music was at times it sounded generic, but overall it was quite entertaining.
Martin Crewes was the standout performer of the show, providing a place for a lively musical about the role of men and women in pre-Marxist Russia. He gave a refreshing change of pace from the stream of lovelorn ballads and morphed seamlessly into the show’s villain, Red army leader Strelnikov.
But of course Anthony Warlow was the man we all came to see, and he did not fail to impress. He was brilliant as the twisted and tormented Zhivago, channelling his character’s inner pain and making it his own. He captivated the audience, making them love and hate Zhivago simultaneously.
Dr. Zhivago is the perfect production for theatregoers who are growing tired of the methodical process of musical theatre. It proves that the musical doesn’t have to be all strained smiles and slapstick comedy. It is intense and at times scary, so if you favour serious over sequins, then Dr. Zhivago is the theatre experience for you.
Penny Evangelou is a final-year Bachelor of Journalism student who is passionate about food, fashion and beauty writing. She is also a member of the 2011 upstart editorial team.