There are other characters and actors in multi-platinum songwriter Ross Golan’s musical The Wrong Man, but really this is a showcase for the vocal talents of the stupendous Joshua Henry.
Everything that the musical lacks in plot and character—really, nothing much happens, and the subsidiary characters are seriously subsidiary—is more than compensated for by the Tony-nominated Henry’s beautiful, giving-it-all performance as its put-upon lead character Duran, framed for murders he did not commit in Reno, Nevada.
The songs Henry sings so brilliantly focus on Duran’s plight, which eventually takes him to jail and suicidal thoughts. Henry, most recently seen in Carousel as Billy Bigelow, has a long relationship with director Thomas Kail and orchestrator Alex Lacamoire, dating back to In The Heights (2007); Henry went on to play Aaron Burr in Hamilton.
You would think if Kail, Hamilton’s Tony Award-winning and two-time Emmy Award-winning director, and Emmy, three-time Tony, four-time Grammy Award-winning orchestrator Lacamoire got together, something good might come out of it—and here it has.
The treat for the audience at the relatively new (and very beautiful) off-Broadway Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, where The Wrong Man is playing to Nov. 17, is to see Henry give what comes to feel—given the intimacy of the space—like a special concert.
If you are lucky enough to see Henry here (or indeed have been lucky enough to see him sing in other shows), you will know that his is a voice that shimmers tenderly in front of you, and can then embed his character's pain directly into your heart.
Besides Henry, The Wrong Man’s other star is its design (by Tony-winning Rachel Hauck) and lighting (Betsy Adams). This is presently the best-lit show on Broadway, and so good it merits the price of admission in itself. Forget Moulin Rouge, and all the gaudy beasts on Broadway. If you like the designer Paul Smith’s penchant for multi-colored stripes, there is something fun, as well as striking, in the rows of lights that Adams positions on three sides of the theater.
Those stripes of lights convey night (blue), daytime (yellow), blood (red), the lights of Reno at night, and the panoply of human emotions (colors of all kinds). It’s mesmerizing to watch them, especially coupled with Henry, as Duran’s plight goes from bad to worse.
There is nothing much else on stage, except some benches and chairs. Two-time Emmy-winning Travis Wall guides the company of dancers through a beautifully subtle choreography, both languorous and intensely physical. The dancers are a kind of emotional echo to the drama facing Duran.
Duran first meets Mariana (Ciara Renée) at a bar, but she has a villainous ex, played by Ryan Vasquez, who refuses to let her go. It is he who frames Duran for his heinous crimes. Racism is never directly mentioned in this evocation of a black man suffering a grave miscarriage of justice (the part of Duran, presumably, was written to be performed by a man of any color), although a piercing piece of wordless staging by Kail towards the end seems to allude to it.
It’s wonderful that Henry performs such a shining showcase. But Renée is given too little to do (far too little), and Vasquez makes the most of the small amount he is given to do (which should also be more; another Hamilton alum, he is the first and only actor to play Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, George Washington, Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, and Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson). More practically, in The Wrong Man, his songs give Henry a moment to rest his well worked-out vocal cords.
All the rock-oriented songs are beautifully sung and orchestrated, but repetitious because of the stuck-on-repeat plot. As it currently is, The Wrong Man is a beautifully sung concert piloted by a wonderful singer (indeed the concept album of The Wrong Man is already out from Golan). It just needs a better story and sense of progression, and a more active consideration of its characters, to transform it into a true musical.