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'Doctor Zhivago' stage musical gets Australian run -- but 'world premiere'?

July 20, 2010 |  3:16 pm

Zhivago In 2006, the La Jolla Playhouse presented a production of  "Zhivago," a new stage musical based on the 1957 Boris Pasternak novel about romance and politics set during the Russian Revolution.

Now the musical has resurfaced in -- of all places -- Australia.  Des McAnuff, the Tony-winning director and former artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse, will direct the Australian production, which is set to begin in February in Sydney.

The musical, titled "Doctor Zhivago," will play an exclusive eight-week engagement at the Lyric Theatre, Star City, from Feb. 11, before an Australian tour. Anthony Warlow, an Australian opera and musical theater actor, will play the title role. 

"Doctor Zhivago" -- which is being billed as a "world premiere" despite its previous Southern California engagement -- features a score by Lucy Simon and and a book by Michael Weller. The lyrics are by Michael Korie and Amy Powers.

A press release sent to the media on Tuesday made no mention of the show's La Jolla production. Perhaps that's because the staging -- which was also directed by McAnuff and starred Ivan Hernandez in the title role -- didn't exactly impress the critics who came to see it.

Times theater critic Charles McNulty wrote in his review that "the musical's grand scale makes it difficult to connect to what lies at its sentimental heart," adding that the show manages to cover a lot of ground but that "not enough of it can be told vividly in the space and time allotted."

A reviewer for the San Diego Union-Tribune described the book for the musical as "relentless" and the dialogue as "wooden" and "artificial."

The story follows the love affair between Yuri Zhivago, a young medical student, and Lara, a beautiful young woman. Their relationship plays against the stormy events of the Russian Revolution and subsequent political upheavals during the first half of the 20th century.

In 1965, director David Lean turned the book into a highly popular movie starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in the lead roles.

No additional casting has been announced for the musical production. 

There's no word yet on the running time for the Australian production. As a note of comparison: the La Jolla staging ran 2 hours, 30 minutes; the David Lean film runs 3 hours, 20 minutes; and the Pasternak novel comes in at close to 600 pages in the paperback edition.

-- David Ng

Photo: A scene from the La Jolla production of "Zhivago," which starred Jessica Burrows and Ivan Hernandez. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times