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by Bruce Janiga

As the voters of New Hampshire were going to the polls to cast their ballot in the presidential primary on Tuesday, February 20, theater fans were lining up to cast their votes for Getting Away With Murder, Stephen Sondheim & George Furth's new comedy thriller at the Broadhurst Theater in New York.

It was indeed a dark and stormy night outside which drove the audience into the theater early in order to avoid the rain and fog. But inside the weather was not much different as the curtain rose on Douglas W. Schmidt's set surrounded by rain, clouds, thunder and lightning. And don't forget the gargoyle!

The cast of characters presented by Sondheim and Furth are more diverse than those on the New Hampshire ballot. Sondheim's love of puzzles and his gift as a playwright combine to bring together a group of men and women for an evening of psychotherapy, or is it murder? And certainly the fact that these two men have worked together before must have made for an interesting dynamic as the script developed. Doesn't a show like this deserve a video or book entitled "The Making of GAWM"?!

Lest this article become a review, which would not be fair to a work in previews, let it suffice to say that Sondheim and Furth set their mystery on the top floor of a dilapidated building in New York City where we see how the lives of the characters connect. The suspects consist of a politician (John Rubinstein), a restaurant hostess (Christine Ebersole), a young man (William Ragsdale), his temporary companion (Michelle Hurd), a socialite (Kandis Chappell), a Greek immigrant (Josh Mostel), a real estate investor (Terrence Mann), a police officer (Frankie R. Faison), an educator (Jodi Long), a security guard (Al Espinosa) and the doctor (Herb Foster).

Gradually the plot reveals the characters' weaknesses and eventually we are even given a corpse or two. The story revolves around a group therapy session where they discover a murder and decide that the best way to avoid publicity is to solve the murder themselves before calling the police. The use of the old building on a stormy October night offers all sorts of possibilities for thunder and lightning, blackouts, back hallways and even broken elevators. At the same time we are presented with a doctor's office full of modern inventions which play key roles in the story such as an answering machine, a computer (but not a Mac like Mr. Sondheim uses), computer passwords and a cordless telephone. Throw in some references to New York City politics, taxies, Central Park, cocaine and Zabar's and you have a 1990's NYC murder mystery. And who else but Mr. Sondheim would think of using the word "tchotkes" in a comedy thriller?

Sondheim has long been fascinated by puzzles and is noted for his perceptive insight into characters so a piece like GAWM offers him a chance to combine both. Surely his fans will cry for music, but he does have a way with words as well and it is rare that he gives us words without music. Give him a chance.

Will he abandon the musical to write plays without music? Perish the thought, GAWM was a diversion which turned into a full-scale production. But at the same time GAWM is a play which will attract not only the Sondheim fans but also those who enjoy a good mystery. And Broadway could use that these days.

Will GAWM succeed? It is too early to tell. Did the audience enjoy the show? Certainly. And the audience was not entirely composed of Sondheim fans. There were many in the audience who seemed to have been there because they were looking for a murder mystery, a species which has been in low supply on Broadway these days. And others were there because, surprisingly, there were actually tickets available at the TKTS booth earlier in the evening.

As Sondheim and Furth fine tune the show during previews there is no doubt that there will be much talk about whether they actually "got away with it".

Discuss this in Finishing the Chat,'s discussion forum.

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