OK, I admit all these Sondheim musicals are wearing me down. I rented Passion which opened on Broadway in 1994 and only lasted for about eights months. It was a flop but not anywhere as bad as Merrily We Roll Along (lasted less than one month). Although Passion was short-lived on the stage, Stephen Sondheim and director/book writer James Lapine had the presence of mind to film it shortly after the musical closed.
The musical is based on a movie called Passione d'Amore. The story is about a handsome Italian officer named Giorgio. He is having an affair with a married woman in Milan. Her name is Clara. Giorgio is suddenly transferred to a new station in a little town far away. His superior officer, Colonel Ricci, has a sickly and ugly cousin named Fosca who falls in love with Giorgio.
I have to say that I was bored out of my mind during my first viewing. I wasn't exactly sure where the plot was going and watching an obsessive woman (Fosca) throw herself desperately at a man is not much fun. I didn't really start liking the musical until almost the end when Giorgio has a radical change of mind and decides that he admires Fosca and even loves her (though not as much as she loves him). He realizes that he wants real love, love that is without "reason" or "mercy" or "pride" or "shame," love that is not simply a "practical arrangement."
My second viewing was much more enjoyable since this time I knew where the plot was going. The music, costumes, and set design are lush, gorgeous, and of course very romantic. The acting is extremely good, the standout being Donna Murphy who played Fosca and won a Tony Award for her performance. Sondheim tries to hard to draw parallels between Fosca and Clara with both of them using some of the same songs and lyrics. Clara appears to be an angel (always wearing bright, breath-takingly beautiful dresses), a salvation of sorts, but it's clear that it is an empty one. Fosca is an emotional force (who in contrast wears dark green dresses) and seems like an obsessive maniac, but Donna Murphy's acting in the train scene (where Fosca follows Giorgio to the station) really sold me on the fact that Fosca is just misguided. She doesn't know how to control her feelings and she sincerely loves Giorgio. Fosca rightly points out that Clara and Giorgio's relationship is only surface deep. She understands that because she once made the mistake of falling for a handsome man who cheated her. However, I'm still not completely convinced of Giorgio's change of heart (when he starts loving Fosca).
It was a good show. I enjoyed the music and appreciated the novel concept, but I'm not sure I'd watch it again. The characters struck my emotional cord weakly; Passion didn't seem that passionate to me.