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by Stefanie Buettner

If one were to believe all of the show's dismal reviews, one might prepare for the worst when going to see Getting Away With Murder. To my relief, I had a good time watching a play that never pretend to be anything else other than entertainment. And, most people in the audience seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves. Realizing that the run ends March 31, maybe the play has a chance in England, which unlike Broadway still cultivates the old-fasioned genre of the murder mystery, and has proven so hospitable to Sondheim's musicals in the past.

I did feel that there were definite problems with this play about seven people representing the seven deadly sins, all suspects in the slaying of their therapist, especially the blunt "shocker" first act finale. There also appeared to be a lack of dramatic flow at times, and the second act felt somewhat unfinished and rather confusing (from what I've heard, there have been substantial last-minute changes).

The actors, who are all about as big a Broadway star as one can be nowadays, make for a terrific ensemble cast, the set is spectacular, and there is even some appropriately creepy background music. The writing is not great prose, but who expects great drama in a thriller? Of course, you have to take this play for what it is: it's not probing into the depth of the human soul, it also won't be in line for the next Pulitzer - but that's fine with me.

Vincent Canby in his review in The New York Times complained that "just about everybody knows the identity of the killer long before the end," but that's not because the audience outsmarts the playwrights - it's because we are being told and shown by them who the killer is. The question in the second act then becomes will he get away with it? All in all, there are enough twists and turns in the plot to keep you interested until the end. To me, the unusually harsh reviews seemed to show some resentment rooted in the fact that this little, unpretentious mystery could get a lavish Broadway production (looks as if "money had been burned" in Mr. Canby's words) as Mr.Sondheim's public indulgence in his passion for puzzles, while other, more "serious" plays by unknown authors cannot get financed. But that's not Stephen Sondheim's fault, who also has spoken out often and loud enough against Broadway's excessive production costs.

Also, I could not help but contrast Murder's poor reviews with the critical praise the recent Broadway production of An Inspector Calls received, leading the show to enjoy an impressive run. As a play, it is negligible, it was great entertainment, largely due to the spectacular production made for great entertainment. Could it be that different standards are being applied to Sondheim and Furth?

As for the show's posted closing date of March 31st, it gives me some consolation that I'm part of history. I couldn't see Sondheim's earlier big-time commercial failures because I either hadn't yet born or I was still in Germany, but at least I saw one of the 17 performances of Getting Away With Murder. What makes this all the more special is that unlike Anyone Can Whistle and Merrily We Roll Along there will be no cast album to remember it by. So to all those who missed it: "go eat your heart out!"

Special thanks to Ray and The Sondheim Review for getting me tickets.

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